Runaway Dancer, last at the head of the stretch, stormed down the center of the track under enthusiastic urging from Garrett Gomez to win the $350,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIIT) going away on the Hollywood Park turf Saturday.
The 6-year-old roan/gray Runaway Groom
gelding won the Murray by 1 1/2 lengths at odds of 17-1 for trainer Dan Hendricks and owner RL Stables. The time was 2:26 3/5 for the marathon 1 1/2-mile distance.
Vangelis, who looked like a winner for jockey Ramon Dominguez after opening up a two-length lead over Sarafan at the eighth pole, had to settle for second, a half-length ahead of his Bobby Frankel-trained stablemate, 2-1 favorite Exterior.
Runaway Dancer, who ran last of seven in the Murray last year, snapped an eight-race losing streak since taking the 2003 Carleton Burke (gr. IIIT) at Oak Tree in 2003. He ran fourth, three lengths behind Singletary, in his last start, the April 9 Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita.
Gomez said he was getting tired trying to push Runaway Dancer to keep up with the field.
"But when I turned for home, he really accelerated," Gomez said. "I mean, he was running by some horses that were moving pretty good. I was thinking, 'Whoa, he's really moving'. He came back to his old form and did it the right way."
Saturday's victory, Runaway Dancer's sixth in 22 starts, was worth $210,000 to the sister and brother ownership team of Kathleen and John Michael Kennedy, nearly doubling the gelding's career earnings to $474,590.
Runaway Dancer tailed off soon after the start, saving ground to the far turn before angling out for the stretch run. Although last, the pace – :25, :49 2/5, 1:13 3/5 and 1:38 1/5 – kept him closer to the pace than unusual.
"When they go 1:15, it's impossible to make up 12 or 15 lengths like that," Hendricks said. "But when they go 13 and change, you have a chance to go get them. And I knew he was doing well with that prep in the Arcadia. It all worked out."
Deputy Lad led the opening mile with San Juan Capistrano (gr. IIT) winner T.H. Approval and $2.6 million winner Sarafan tracking closely. As the pacesetters gave way, Vangelis, bidding four wide after stalking the leaders throughout, took over and drew off. But Runaway Dancer was just winding up for his closing kick.
"I was happy with what he gave me turning for home," Dominguez, aboard the runner-up, said. "When I made the lead, for the briefest moment, he went on. I thought I was going to win. But the winner came to me at the sixteenth pole. He was pretty far out on the track, and I just couldn't stay with him."
Runaway Dancer, who carried 115 pounds, six less than top-weighted Sarafan, paid $37.20, $16.20, and $7.20. Vangelis, making his first start since running third in the Clement L. Hirsch (gr. IT) in October, returned $6.80 and $4.60, completing a $239.40 exacta. Exterior, ridden by Alex Solis, was $3.60 to show.
Then came Continental Red, T.H. Approval, Pellegrino, Sarafan, and Deputy Lad. Continuously was scratched.