Perhaps encouraged by the absence of Bourbon Bay, 11 horses were entered in the $150,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. II) to be contested May 15 over the Hollywood Park turf.
Named for the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times, the Jim Murray Handicap returns to the Hollywood Park lineup after after a one-year hiatus when it was one of several stakes cut by the track due to economic factors in 2009. Hollywood Park will have an 11 a.m. first post on Preakness Stakes day. The Jim Murray, the eighth on the card, is set to go at 2:45 p.m. PDT.
The field for the 1 1/2-mile event includes the 3-year-old California-bred colt Alphie's Bet, returning to the turf after a spin on the Triple Crown trail for trainer Alexis Barba. The 118-pound highweight in the evenly-matched field is Italian group I winner Scintillo, making his first United States start for trainer Neil Drysdale.
Drysdale, who also entered History Boy, trains Bourbon Bay, who swept the three-stakes turf distance series at Santa Anita this year and is being given some time off.
The British-bred Scintillo, a 5-year-old by Fantastic Light that is owned by Leonard Lucas, won the 2007 Gran Criterium (Ity-I) in Italy and the Grand Prix de Chantilly (Fr-II) at Chantilly nearly a year ago. He has been well beaten in four subsequent starts and makes his first appearance since an 11th-place showing in the Japan Cup (Jpn-I) Nov. 29.
“I picked him up after the Japan Cup,” said the Hall of Famer Drysdale. Rafael Bejarano has the call on Scintillo, who drew the rail. The chestnut horse has won five of 27 career starts with earnings of $515,185.
His stablemate, Joseph Allen's 4-year-old History Boy, is making his stakes debut. The Kentucky-bred son of Grand Slam began his career in France and has raced four times in the U.S., most recently winning an optional claiming allowance race on the Hollywood turf by 1 1/4 lengths April 21. David Flores rides again.
Alphie's Bet, the only 3-year-old in the Jim Murray field, captured the Sham Stakes (gr. III) at Santa Anita March 6 but missed the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) field when he ran sixth in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) one month later. He has had one prior start on grass, winning a maiden race over state breds going one mile earlier this year at Santa Anita.
No 3-year-old has won the Jim Murray in 19 runnings.
Trainer Mike Mitchell, who won the Jim Murray in succession with On the Acorn in 2007 and 2008, shoots for his third with Skellytown.
Skellytown is a 7-year-old gelding making his second start for Mitchell. He was claimed for $25,000 on April 1 at Santa Anita. He made Mitchell’s purchase for a quartet of owners look good with a strong third-place finish in the 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Handicap (gr. IIT) on the Santa Anita turf April 18. Skellytown led mid-stretch at 25-1 odds, but could not hold off Bourbon Bay and Unusual Suspect in the final stages and lost by 1 1/4 lengths.
“He ran great in the San Juan,” said assistant trainer Phil D’Amato. “We didn’t have him that long. He’s been training great. This might be a better distance for him. Mike always thought a mile and a half would be his best distance.”
Tyler Baze has taken the call on Skellytown, a chestnut by Thunder Gulch out of the Strawberry Road mare Miss Dahlia. He has won five of 16 starts and earned $152,240.
Also coming out of the San Juan Capistrano are Unusual Suspect, looking to end an eight-race skid for trainer Barry Abrams, fourth-place finisher Falcon Rock, Romp (fifth), and Stalingrad, who faded to last after setting a brisk pace for the distance.
Dynamic Range has a win at the 12-furlong distance over an allowance field last fall at Oak Tree and makes his first start for trainer Julio Canani since finishing sixth in the San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) March 20.
Rendezvous, a 4-year-old chestnut colt from the Jerry Hollendorfer stable, seeks his first victory in seven starts since winning the Del Mar Derby (gr. IIT) last September. He was a fast-closing second in his last start in the Tokyo City Handicap (gr. III) on Pro-Ride at Santa Anita March 27.
$150,000 Jim Murray Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 8, 2:45 p.m. PDT), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 Miles (Turf)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Scintillo (GB), R Bejarano, 118, N D Drysdale
2. Dynamic Range (KY), M A Pedroza, 115, J C Canani
3. Acclamation (CA), C Santiago Reyes, 114, D Warren
4. Alphie's Bet (CA), S R Amador, 110, A Barba
5. Skellytown (KY), T Baze, 114, M R Mitchell
6. Romp (ARG), B Blanc, 115, K Mulhall
7. Unusual Suspect (CA),A Quinonez, 115, B Abrams
8. Falcon Rock (IRE), J Talamo, 114, S Callaghan
9. History Boy (KY), D R Flores, 113, N D Drysdale
10. Stalingrad (KY), V Espinoza, 115, J M Cassidy
11. Rendezvous (KY),J Rosario, 116, J Hollendorfer