Indizguys Stable’s On the Acorn hadn’t won a race since last year’s running of the $250,000 Jim Murrary Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT) (VIDEO), but he defended that score with dignity and took the May 10 event at Hollywood Park for the second time in a row.
This year’s trip was a much better one for the 7-year-old Inchinor gelding. In 2007, he was stuck behind a slow pace and -- after weaving his way through traffic -- just managed to win with a rail-scraping bid. The Mike Mitchell trainee went from last to first again in the 2008 edition of the race, but under much better conditions this time.
The 1 1/2-mile turf event was led from the start by 5-2 second choice Boule d’Or. Trained by Jeff Mullins, Boule d’Or nursed through opening fractions of :24.69 and :48.02, while an extremely rank Sudan carried jockey Jose Valdivia well into the center of the track in an attempt to chase the leader.
Far back and out of trouble, On the Acorn and jockey Brice Blanc rated through three quarters in 1:12.49 and a mile in 1:37.32, fourth behind the Bobby Frankel-trained Champs Elysees. Sudan, also trained by Frankel, finally settled just off the pace.
When Champs Elysees made his move at the quarter pole, On the Acorn followed. Champs Elysees, the 2-5 favorite, gained the lead and had a length advantage over the field going into the stretch. But On the Acorn was closing hard outside, and the two engaged in a ding-dong battle that resulted in a nose-bob score for the latter gelding. The final time was 2:27.36.
"I've won four races with this horse now," Blanc said. "Mike (Mitchell) told me to try and get him as relaxed as possible. He said, 'Don't worry about anything, just let him finish up nice.' I just kept tracking Champs Elysees. He was the one to beat...I just waited, biding my time. When I got to the turn, I swung out again and he really went on with it. That other horse was digging in and coming back at me, but my horse ran great."
On the Acorn came into the Jim Murray off a fourth-place finish in the April 20 San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT), in which he flattened out after making a bid in the final furlong. A $40,000 claim by Mitchell in October of 2006, the hard-knocking runner was given a significant layoff after last year's Jim Murray win, and did not race following that score until Feburary of 2008.
"This horse has been training great ever since we turned him out," said Mitchell. "I thought the first race back (the grade II San Luis Obispo Handicap) was a super race; we ran third, and I thought it set it up for the next two races. I told Jack (Disney) and all the owners I was scratching my head after the second race (the grade II San Luis Rey Handicap) because he just ran so bad (sixth). The last time in the San Juan Capistrano, I just thought he was up too close for him. This was just a perfect trip and I’m so happy for those guys--they kind of live and die with this horse because it’s the only horse they have.”
On the Acorn returned $21.60 and $4.20, while Champs Elysees paid $2.10. Sudan and Boule d’Or completed the order of finish. Church Service, also trained by Mitchell, scratched.
The win was a fitting tribute to the Los Angeles Times’ Pulitzer prize-winning Murray, who died in 1998. Indizguyz Stable includes Santa Anita Park publicist Jack Disney, once good friends with Murray, and the group also includes Ross Newhan (Hall of Fame baseball writer for the Times), former catcher and California Angels manager Buck Rodgers, and former San Francisco 49er Paul Salata, as well as Disney’s twin brother Doug, and Fred Krueger.
“We’re just ecstatic," Disney said. "We thought we had a big shot last year. This year, we thought we were really up against it. Getting reunited with Brice Blanc was the key, he rode him beautifully.”
The Jim Murray winner was bred in Great Britain and is out of the Suave Dancer mare Amarice. From 32 starts, he owns an 8-3-4 record, with $743,812 in earnings.