The regally-bred Champs Elysees makes his first appearance since a troubled third-place finish in the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 1. That was the 5-year-old Danehill horse's first try on anything but the turf. Champs Elysees, who is out of Hasili and is a full brother to Dansili, Banks Hill and Intercontinental and a half-brother to Heat Haze, has made three starts in the U.S. since last winter.
The bay finished second to Sunriver in the Hollywood Turf Cup (gr. IT) in his American bow in December, then returned six weeks later to capture the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita. Champs Elysees owns a group III win in France at the 12-furlong distance.
Besides Champs Elysees, Frankel also starts Gary Tanaka's Sudan in the 1 1/2-mile grass test named in memory of the Pulitzer Prize-winning sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times who died in 1998. Though the field is small, it includes a legitimate front-running threat in Boule d'Or and the defending Murray champion, On the Acorn.
Mike Mitchell, who conditions On the Acorn, also entered Church Service, meaning he and Frankel would account for 80% of the field if all start.
Although he has dominated the Murray since its inception, Frankel is seeking his first win in the race since 2003. Juddmonte has four victories in the Murray.
In the Big 'Cap, Champs Elysees broke slowly from the rail and raced at the back of the field for most of the 1 1/4-mile journey before rallying in the stretch along the inside, where he was stopped with an eighth of a mile to go. Once he got room, he continued to make progress to notch the show spot, 3 1/2 lengths behind the victorious Heatseeker.
Ramon Dominguez, who rode Champs Elysees for the first time in the Santa Anita, is due from Maryland to take up the mount once again. Overall, the English-bred Champs Elysees has a 3-5-4 mark in 14 starts and earnings of $520,647.
The Irish-bred Sudan tries to get back into winning form following a last-place finish in the San Luis Obispo Handicap (gr. IIT) at Santa Anita in February, his only U.S. start. A grade I winner in Italy last June, the 5-year-old horse by Peintre Celebre has turned in poor efforts in back-to-back races since.
On the Acorn has struggled in his three starts in 2008 since winning the Murray a year ago. Most recently, in the about 1 3/4-mile San Juan Capistrano Invitational Handicap (gr. IIT) April 20, the Mitchell-trained 7-year-old gelding launched a nice four-wide bid in the stretch but flattened out after getting close approaching the final furlong and finished fourth, four lengths behind another Mitchell trainee, the streaking Big Booster.
The English-bred stayer could become the first repeat winner of the Jim Murray.
“On the Acorn is doing super, better than last year,” Mitchell said May 7. “But I have a lot of respect for Bobby Frankel’s horse (Champs Elysees). He’s a good horse, a very good horse.”
Mitchell named Brice Blanc to ride On the Acorn, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza in his last five starts, including the Jim Murray victory. Blanc has ridden the English-bred five times, winning three times. On the Acorn leads the field in earnings with $593,812 while winning seven times in 31 starts.
Mitchell also entered Church Service with Espinoza, though he's not certain to start him.
Beaten a nose by Niagara Causeway after closing fast in a grade III race on Santa Anita's synthetic surface March 29, Church Service switches back to the turf. The 5-year-old Pulpit gelding has won three times in 15 starts on grass and ran second to Spring House in the recent San Luis Obispo.
“I don’t know whether I’m going to run Church Service there or in the Dallas Turf Cup (May 26 at Lone Star Park),” said Mitchell. “I don’t know if I want to run both horses against Bobby. I’m going to talk it over with the owners the next couple of days.”
Church Service, claimed by Mitchell three races back for $50,000 in January, finished last of six in the Jim Murray last year for trainer Lisa Lewis.
A legitimate threat to make all is the Irish-bred Boule d'Or, who left the field by more than 10 lengths in the 1 1/2-mile San Luis Rey Handicap (gr. IIT) March 22 at Santa Anita and held on to win by three quarters of a length.
Jeff Mullins trains the 7-year-old for the partnership of Bone, Johnson and Robinson, who claimed Boule d'Or from Paddy Gallagher for $50,000 two months prior to the San Luis Rey. Boule d'Or has seven lifetime wins in 48 starts and earnings of $544,981.
$250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap (gr. IIT, Race 3, 2:20 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/2 MIles (Turf)
Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Boule d'Or (IRE), 115, Tyler Baze
2. Champs Elysees (GB), 119, Ramon A. Dominguez
3. Church Service (KY), 113, Victor Espinoza
4. Sudan (IRE), 115, Jose Valdivia, Jr.
5. On the Acorn (GB), 115, Brice Blanc