05/06/2004 12:00AM

Gassan Royal nicely spotted in Murray


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - The career of Gassan Royal has been geared toward races such as Saturday's $350,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park, a 1 1/2-mile turf race.

Trained by Bobby Frankel, has raced exclusively on turf, finished first or second in his eight starts, and won optional claimers over 1 1/4 miles at Santa Anita in his last two starts.

The Murray Handicap represents the ideal spot for Gassan Royal's stakes debut. The race lacks a standout, a reflection of the lack of depth in the California turf marathon division. Only two of the seven entrants have won graded stakes in this country in the last year - Ballingarry in the Grade 3 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park last July and Runaway Dancer, the upset winner of the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at Santa Anita last October.

One question surrounding Gassan Royal's chances is the Murray distance of 1 1/2 miles. Saturday will be the first time he has tried that trip.

"He switches off so easily, I don't think it will be a problem," Frankel said.

The Murray is the richest race on a 10-race-program that includes two $150,000 stakes: the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap over 1 1/16 miles and the Los Angeles Times Handicap over six furlongs.

The Murray field includes three horses who started in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap over about 1 3/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita April 20: Rhythm Mad (second), Runaway Dancer (third), and Gene de Campeao (eighth).

Rhythm Mad may go favored in the Murray. He finished fourth in the Group 2 Prix Niel in France last September, but has yet to win a stakes.

The San Juan Capistrano was Rhythm Mad's stakes debut in the United States. He closed through traffic to finish second, losing by 1 1/2 lengths to Meteor Storm.

was third in the 2003 Murray and won the Stars and Stripes in his next start. In his only appearance this year, Ballingarry finished third in the Arcadia Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf at Santa Anita on April 3.

Runaway Dancer will be closing. Trained by Dan Hendricks, Runaway Dancer, 5, is winless in five starts since his victory in the Burke. His chances could be hurt by a lack of pace.

The absence of a confirmed front-runner led trainer Neil Drysdale to enter Right Proof, who has never run in a stakes.

"We've entered because there's not much pace," Drysdale said.

Drysdale said a decision will be made Saturday regarding Right Proof's participation.