While trainer Frank Alexander was enjoying views of the Grand Tetons on horseback yesterday, jockey Craig Perret was experiencing another kind of exhilarating ride at Laurel Race Course.
Perret felt the sensation of overpowering a crack field of sprinters on the Alexander-trained Cherokee Run and won the $300,000 Frank J. De Francis Dash in near stakes-record time.
It was Perret's second victory in the Grade II sprint in four years. He won on Housebuster in 1991, establishing a stakes record for six furlongs of 1 minute, 8 3/5 seconds that is shared with last year's winner, Montbrook.
It took Cherokee Run a fifth of a second longer to complete the trip yesterday after he passed early leader Fu Man Slew at the top of the stretch. He then held off a gutsy late run by Boom Towner -- who angled out and put on a final burst of speed near the wire -- to win by 2 1/4 lengths.
Fu Man Slew held on for third after surviving a foul claim lodged byChris Antley, who rode 10th-place finisher Individual Style.
Antley told the stewards that he was forced to take up his horse at the three-sixteenths pole after Fu Man Slew ducked in. But Joe Bravo on Fu Man Slew argued that there was still plenty of room for Individual Style to get through on the rail. The stewards agreed and disallowed Antley's objection.
Moments after Cherokee Run asserted his superiority over the 10 other horses, Perret was on the phone to Alexander, who is vacationing at a guest ranch near Jackson Hole, Wyo.
"I just bought you a few more days off," Perret told Alexander. "The horse just parked."
The fear was that Cherokee Run, who drew the one hole, would be shuffled back at the start in a race where nearly a half dozen other horses had more dazzling early speed.
That's exactly what happened. Fu Man Slew, a diminutive 3-year-old from California, jetted to the front, pressed by Individual Style, another West Coast 3-year-old. Demaloot Demashoot and Blushing Julian also outran Cherokee Run.
But Perret, 43, told Alexander that the horse "settled good" as he saved ground along the rail, about four lengths off the pace.
Then Cherokee Run "just galloped up to the leaders," Perret added, "when I asked him to run on the turn."
At that point Blushing Julian fell back and Perret was able to ease Cherokee Run through an opening between that horse and Individual Style.
Cherokee Run was three horses wide at the top of the stretch, but drew off in the stretch under intermittent urging by Perret.
The horse's owner, J. Mack Robinson from Atlanta, said until yesterday it had been a frustrating season for Cherokee Run, who had compiled a string of seconds and thirds in top company in New York, including a second-place finish to Holy Bull in the Metropolitan Mile. "No one wants to run against Holy Bull, but at least we did and finished second," Robinson said.
Even though Cherokee Run ran in the Triple Crown last year, finishing second in the 1-3/16ths mile Preakness to 3-year-old champion Prairie Bayou, Alexander said he now plans to keep the horse in sprints.
"I'd like him to go over the $1 million mark in earnings and have picked out a couple of races [the A Phenomenon Stakes and Forego Handicap] for him at Saratoga."
Cherokee Run is not eligible for the Breeders' Cup, but Robinson said he will put up the $120,000 supplementary fee to start him in the Nov. 5 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs. "I don't think anybody can beat him," Alexander said.
As the 1.70-1 Dash favorite, Cherokee Run paid $5.40, $3.40 and $3.
Many of the starters turned in disappointing efforts. You And I, the second choice who had broken a track record in his last start at Belmont Park, was simply outrun.
Never Wavering, whose owners put up $15,000 to supplement him on Thursday, dropped back after showing some early speed and finished ninth. Demaloot Demashoot, the fourth choice ridden by Mike Luzzi, finished last.
The De Francis Dash was the second part of the National Best Seven. The winning numbers were 8-1-8-10-7-2-8. There were 37 winning 7 of 7 tickets, each worth $16,910.90 for a 50-cent wager. Three of the winning tickets were sold in Maryland.
There were 1,221 winning 6 of 7 tickets, each worth $123.95. The nationwide pool climbed to $672,804.15, almost double the previous amount wagered in the Best Seven.
Dash Day was a success for Laurel management. More than $2.6 million was bet in Maryland on the card, a record for a De Francis Dash Day, and attendance exceeded last year's figure by about 150 people.
More than $2 million was bet out of state on the Dash, about triple the amount wagered on last year's Dash.