RL Stables' Runaway Dancer closed from far back to score a 38-1 stunner by a neck over European invader Labirinto in Friday's $139,250 Carleton F. Burke Handicap (gr. IIIT) at 1 1/2 mile on the Santa Anita turf course.
Senor Swinger, the lukewarm 3-1 favorite in the eight-horse field, had the lead in the stretch but could not hold off the two late closers, settling for third, another neck behind. Continental Red was fourth. The final time was 2:28 1/5 over a firm course.
Labirinto, a 5-year-old gelding who was making his first start in the United States, came into the stretch extremely wide for jockey Eric Saint-Martin. He appeared to have the race in hand after collaring Senor Swinger and Continental Red in deep stretch. But Mike Smith, aboard Runaway Dancer, ran down the entire field coming through the lane to get up just in time for his first graded stakes victory.
The 4-year-old grey/roan Runaway Groom gelding, some 10 lengths behind after a mile, accomplished the come-from-behind victory in spite of a slow pace set by Continuously, who went four furlongs in :50 3/5 and completed the opening mile in 1:39 4/5.
"This is a true mile and a half horse, he really is," Smith said. "The further the better. He just keeps on running. If they go slow, he finishes, if they go fast he finishes. H e just has a great closing kick. I was surprised to see him at that price to tell you the truth. He left the gate and he was real eager, but I was scared if I let him really close he wouldn't finish like he did."
Runaway Dancer, bred in Kentucky by Reyla Graber, was coming off a closing sixth-place finish in the 1 1/8-mile Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. IIIT). He was making his first start at the 12-furlong distance, although he won a pair of optional claiming allowance races on the Del Mar green at 1 3/8 mile prior to his Bay Meadows effort.
The Dan Hendricks trainee won for the third time in five starts this year. Overall, he sports a 5-1-1 record in 13 starts with earnings of $189,590. Friday's win was worth $83,550.
"We found out at Del Mar he likes to run a mile and three eighths or further, and I don't think there's a limit," Hendricks said. "He's a galloper that just gets stronger and stronger as he goes and he proved that at Del Mar when at a mile and three eighths, and he really proved it when we backed him up to a mile and an eighth. Then he just didn't have enough ground to run at these horses. And he's about halfway to his potential. We're just going to have a lot of fun."
The winner paid $78.20, $25.80 and $14. Labirinto returned $7 and $4.60. Senor Singer, ridden by Jerry Bailey for trainer Bob Baffert, showed for $3.60.