INGLEWOOD, Calif. (May 12, 2010)-Mike Mitchell, who won the last two runnings of the Jim Murray Memorial Handicap with a gelding he claimed, will try to accomplish the feat again on Saturday at Hollywood Park.
Mitchell, who won the Murray in both 2007 and 2008 with On The Acorn, an English bred he claimed for $40,000, will send out Skellytown against 10 others as the race returns after a one year absence.
A Grade II at 1 ½ miles on turf, the Murray is named in honor of the Pulitzer Prize winning sports columnist for the Los Angeles Times. Murray, who frequently wrote about racing, died in August, 1998.
There will be an early post time of 11 a.m. on Saturday due to the 135th running of the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico. The scheduled post time for the Preakness is 3:05 p.m. PDT, placing it between the eighth, which is the Murray, and ninth races at Hollywood Park.
Taken for $25,000 by Mitchell on April 1 at Santa Anita, Skellytown, a 7-year-old gelded son of Thunder Gulch out of the Strawberry Road mare Miss Dahlia, was third in the San Juan Capistrano, a Grade II at about 1 ¾ miles on grass, in his first for the new connections. In the April 18th event, Skellytown had the lead in the stretch at 25-1, but eventually was beaten 1 ¼ lengths by heavily favored Bourbon Bay. He finished three-quarters of a length behind runner-up Unusual Suspect.
Bred in Kentucky by Madeleine Paulson and Diamond A Racing Corporation, Skellytown has won five of 16 while earning $152,240. He will carry 114 pounds and will be ridden by Tyler Baze.
If Skellytown captures the $150,000 Murray, Mitchell would join the late Bobby Frankel as the only trainers to win the race three times in a row. Frankel succeeded with Berillon, Toulon and Mashaallah between 1992-94. Overall, he won the Murray a record six times.
Three weeks removed from a victory over California breds in the $200,000 Snow Chief Stakes, Alphie’s Bet will try to make some history of his own. The Tribal Rule-Miss Alphie colt will seek to become the first 3-year-old to win the Murray.
Owned by Peter O. Johnson, Sr. and breeder Teresa McWilliams, Alphie’s Bet won his only other start on turf. He defeated Cal bred maidens by 1 ¼ lengths on Jan. 15 at Santa Anita. The last to first victory came seven weeks before his lone graded stakes win in the Sham.
Trained by Alexis Barba, Alphie’s Bet, who has won three of seven while banking $261,320, was given 110 pounds, 14 less than he carried in his Snow Chief win. Silvio Amador is listed to ride.
The 118-pound highweight in the field is Scintillo. Owned by Leonard Lucas and trained by Neil Drysdale, the 5-year-old Fantastic Light horse out of the Thatching mare Danseuse du Soir has won five of 27 while earning $515,499.
This will be the first start in the United States for the English bred. He has been away since finishing 11th in the Japan Cup, a Group 1, last Nov. 29 in Tokyo. His most recent victory came in the Grand Prix de Chantilly, a Group II, in France on May 31, 2009.
Drysdale is looking for his second Murray win. The Hall of Fame trainer won with Storming Home in 2003.
The second high weight at 116 is Rendezvous. A 4-year-old son of Victory Gallop and the Southern Halo mare Halo Babe owned in partnership by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, Rendezvous will be making his first turf appearance of 2010. Joel Rosario has the call.
The last grass start for Rendezvous was an eighth place finish in the Oak Tree Derby on Nov. 7. His biggest win on the surface came as a 22-1 longshot in the Del Mar Derby last Sept. 6. Overall, Rendezvous has won four of 19 and earned $393,505.
History Boy, also trained by Drysdale, is the lone Murray entrant that has won at the current meet. Owned by breeder Joseph Allen, the 4-year-old gelded son of Grand Slam and the Bates Motel mare Rare Blend won an optional claimer at 1 ¼ miles on April 21. It was the first win in five starts in this country for History Boy. He was assigned 113 pounds and David Flores will ride. Overall, the bay has won two of nine while earning $67,676.
The rest of the Murray cast includes Acclamation, fourth in the Inglewood Handicap on April 25, Dynamic Range, unplaced in the San Luis Rey Handicap on March 20 at Santa Anita, Unusual Suspect, Falcon Rock, fourth in the San Juan Capistrano, Romp, who is winless since Nov. 27, 2008 and Stalingrad, last in the Capistrano after opening a large early advantage.
A 6-year-old son of Unusual Heat and the Crested Water mare Penpont, Unusual Suspect has only one win in 14 races since the beginning of 2009. However, the California bred, who is owned by trainer Barry Abrams, his wife Dyan and brother David, has collected three of his six grass victories on the Hollywood Park turf course.
From the inside out, here is the complete field for the 20th running of the $150,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap: Scintillo, Rafael Bejarano rides, 118 pounds; Dynamic Range, Martin Pedroza, 115; Acclamation, Christian Santiago Reyes, 114; Alphie’s Bet, 110; Skellytown, Tyler Baze, 114; Romp, Brice Blanc, 115; Unusual Suspect, Alonso Quinonez, 115; Falcon Rock, Joe Talamo, 114; History Boy, David Flores, 113; Stalingrad, Victor Espinoza, 115 and Rendezvous, Joel Rosario, 116.
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