The former Irish Derby (Ire-I) victor Grey Swallow delivered a devastating punch in the stretch to leave his opponents far behind in the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Hollywood Park turf Saturday.
Ridden by Alex Solis, the 5-year-old Grey Swallow always looked like a winner for world famous trainer Dermot Weld in the 12-furlong Jim Murray, which was contested on very firm going.
Weld has done this before, shipping a horse from abroad to win a major Hollywood Park race. He saddled Dress To Thrill to an upset victory here in the Matriarch (gr. IT) in 2002 and Dimitrova to win the $750,000 American Oaks in 2003.
"This has been a very lucky track for me," Weld said, adding he hopes to come back with a filly for the American Oaks (gr. IT) in July. "They often say Arlington Park in Chicago is the best turf track in America, I think they've got a rival here now."
Having gotten his sharpener at odds of 3-5, Weld said the gray Irish-bred son of Daylami-Style of Life (The Minstrel) would be pointed to the Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT) on the Belmont Park lawn June 10.
"He's an ex champion of Ireland – joint champion 3-year-old and Derby winner," said Weld, whose mother is part-owner of Grey Swallow. "He was a group I winner last year and it's nice to see him come back and do it the way you would expect him to. I thought he'd win. That's why he is here. You need luck, you need everything going your way, I don't take anything for granted. But the horse is right, he traveled well and he worked well here on Sunday. I expected him to do what he did."
The winner of the 2004 Irish Derby at odds of 10-1, Grey Swallow enjoyed his first success since capturing the Tattersalls Gold Cup (Ire-I) at the Curragh May 22. Grey Swallow disappointed in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes (Eng-I) when seventh last summer, followed by a sixth-place showing in the Irish Champion Stakes (Ire-I) at Leopardstown in September. Grey Swallow completed his 2005 campaign – and his last start before Saturday – with a third in the Canadian International (Can-I) in his first foray to Woodbine Oct. 23.
Solis picked up the mount from regular rider Patrick Smullen, who could not make satisfactory travel arrangements.
"It was a no-brainer," Solis said afterward, made much easier, no doubt, by the scratch of the ailing King's Drama on Friday.
Brecon Beacon staked out an early advantage, and they went very slowly – :25 4/5, :51 2/5, 1:17 and 1:41 1/5 – with Grey Swallow perched on the outside of the leader throughout. Solis wound up the 3-5 favorite on the far turn and, with a smart crack of the whip at the head of the lane, they swept to the front as they pleased, bounding away down the lane to complete the distance in an ordinary 2:27 1/5. The winning margin was five lengths under steady handling.
"Incredible," he said. "Dermot Weld described the race perfectly. He said to just lay right behind (Brecon Beacon) and follow him the whole way around, then at the top of the stretch, just go on and take the lead. So really, it was very easy. I just tapped him left-handed and he switched leads and he handled the rest from there. He felt really strong."
The British-bred Brecon Beacon, ridden by Aaron Gryder, held on with determination for second by one length over Runaway Dancer and Jose Valdivia Jr.
Runaway Dancer, who won this race last year, loomed as a danger on the far turn but flattened out while holding off Golden Rahy by a neck for third. One Off, the 5-2 second choice, threw in the towel early and finished last in a field of five reduced by the scratches of King's Drama and Macduff.
Grey Swallow, who was bred by Mrs. C.L. Weld, won for the sixth time in 13 lifetime starts. Saturday's winning purse of $150,000 improved his earnings to $1,580,786.
He paid $3.20, $2.60, and $2.10. Brecon Beacon returned $4.60 and $2.80. Runaway Dancer was $2.40 to show.