08/23/2003 12:00AM

'Dancer' likes to go long


DEL MAR, Calif. - Turf marathons seem to work for Runaway Dancer.

The former maiden claimer was tried over 1 3/8 miles on turf for the first time on July 24 and he scored a two-length win, the most important victory of his 10-race career.

Monday, Runaway Dancer returns in a $63,000 optional claimer over that same distance at Del Mar, and trainer Dan Hendricks is confident the gray gelding can repeat.

"I think getting the distance is the big thing," Hendricks said. "I like where I'm at. He seemed to relish the mile and three-eighths. The timing is perfect."

The optional claimer is the top race on an eight-race program plagued by short fields. Only 59 horses are entered, including two six-horse fields in the early daily double.

Runaway Dancer faces seven opponents. Owned by RL Stable, Runaway Dancer is a closer. In the July 24 race, jockey Mike Smith kept Runaway Dancer on the inside throughout. Runaway Dancer found room in early stretch and rallied quickly to take the lead.

His competition features five others who have run in turf marathons in recent months.

Gulchie, Something Rush-ing, and Tronare finished second through fourth in an allowance race over 1 3/8 miles on turf on July 28. Kristin Mulhall trains Gulchie and Tronare.

Gulchie was in traffic on the final turn and finished two lengths behind Continuously, who has been nominated for the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Sunday.

Something Rushing is proven in longer races, having won an allowance race over 1 3/8 miles on turf at Churchill Downs on June 15.

Tronare, a Chilean import, was making his second U.S. start on July 28. He was second in the Chilean Derby in February 2002.

While Runaway Dancer will be well-supported, the likely favorite is Nazirali.

Trained by Julio Canani, Nazirali finished fifth in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap over 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park on July 20, his third consecutive loss. Last winter at Santa Anita, he won an allowance race over 1 1/4 miles on turf.