On the heels of his sharp victory in the San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) less than three weeks ago, the ex-claimer On the Acorn came right back Saturday with a well-timed finish to capture the $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO) on the Hollywood Park turf.
It was a fitting win for the ownership group of Indizguys Stable, which includes Santa Anita Park publicist Jack Dizney, who worked with sports department of the now defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and was a good friend of the Los Angeles Times' Pulitzer prize-winning columnist Murray, who died in 1998.
Also among the "guys" are Ross Newhan, a Hall of Fame baseball writer for the Times, Buck Rodgers, former catcher and manager of the California Angels, and former San Francisco 49er Paul Salata. The group also includes Disney’s twin brother Doug and Fred Krueger.
On the Acorn, claimed for $40,000 by trainer Mike Mitchell, defeated Prospect Park by a half-length in the 12-furlong Murray, gamely prevailing after a difficult trip under Victor Espinoza. Stuck behind a ridiculously slow pace set by Prospect Park while racing at the back of the six-horse field, the Great Britain-bred On the Acorn weaved his way into striking position before finding a bit of room along the rail that Espinoza was able to exploit just in time to record a game victory in a terrific finish.
The final time of 2:29 was well outside the track mark of 2:23 2/5.
"It's one of those things,” Espinoza said. “I took a shot and stayed inside, and it worked out perfectly. I was looking for the wire to see where it was, because Corey still had horse. I didn't want to miscalculate. They were going slow, but I didn't want to be second or third early because he would have become too on the muscle.”
Mitchell said the gap for On the Acorn "was like the opening of the Red Sea" as the rivals pounded for home in close quarters. Five lengths covered the entire field at the wire.
“I knew the pace was going to be really slow, I just didn’t think anybody wanted the lead in this race,” Mitchell said. “Victor knows we don’t want to be the pace setter in a race like this. I was concerned when he got in a pickle whether or not he would get loose from that, but it was a terrific ride.”
Prospect Park had to settle for second for Corey Nakatani after getting away with crawling fractions of :26 3/5, :51 4/5, 1:17 and 1:41 3/5. Notable Guest, outmaneuvered for the rail opening, finished third, two lengths behind the winner with David Flores aboard. Fitz Flag, who made a big move on the final turn to loom a danger on the outside, flattened out in the stretch run and finished fourth, with Runaway Dancer and Church Service trailing.
On the Acorn won for the fourth time in five starts in 2007 with one second-place finish and earnings of nearly $400,000 since his claim by Mitchell late last year. Overall, the 6-year-old Inchinor gelding owns a 7-3-3 mark in 28 lifetime starts with earnings of $560,812 after winning $150,000 Saturday.
“This is really an amazing horse,” Espinoza said. “Just unbelievable the way he's running lately. Especially coming back so soon after a mile and three-quarters race (the San Juan Capistrano)."
Sent off as the second choice, On the Acorn paid $7, $3.40, and $2.60. Prospect Park, a group III winner in France coming off a third-place finish in the San Luis Rey (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita March 24 for trainer Richard Mandella, returned $3 and $2.40. Notable Guest, who was second in the San Luis Rey in his last start for Bobby Frankel, was $2.60 to show.