08/25/2006 12:00AM

Gray the way to go on green


DEL MAR, Calif. - One year after T.H. Approval and Runaway Dancer emerged as the top long-distance grass horses in California, the division remains as gray as ever.

Ten older horses entered the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap on Sunday, but the $250,000 turf race at 1 3/8 miles boils down to a match of grays - T.H. Approval, the class of the field, and horse-for-course Runaway Dancer.

T.H. Approval's win last month in the Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park was his third in a Grade 2; Runaway Dancer's win this month in the Escondido Handicap was his third on the Del Mar turf.

Quinquin the King, third in the San Juan Capistrano in his U.S. debut in April, also runs Sunday, but the race is his first in four months. His trainer, Bob Hess Jr., cautioned, "To beat T.H. Approval and Runaway Dancer, you have to be your best."

The insinuation is that Quinquin the King, another gray, needs a race. "The San Juan knocked him for a loop," Hess said.

Meanwhile, 120-pound highweight T.H. Approval makes his first start in six weeks for trainer Eduardo Inda and enters in top form.

"He's good right now," Inda said. "I feel very confident."

He should be. T.H. Approval won his first graded stakes in spring 2005 and returned to top form this year by repeating in the San Juan, and two starts later scored a decisive win in the 1 1/2-mile Sunset.

"He ran like a good horse that day," Inda said. "He started running at the half-mile pole and never quit running."

It was the sixth win in 24 starts for T.H. Approval, who was scheduled for a quarter-mile blowout Saturday morning over the Del Mar turf course. A 5-year-old, T.H. Approval will be running at Del Mar for the first time in two years.

Alex Solis rides T.H. Approval, relinquishing the mount on Escondido winner Runaway Dancer. A 7-year-old gelding, Runaway Dancer won back-to-back allowance races at Del Mar in 2003, and four weeks ago outran four others in the restricted Escondido Handicap.

"His three best races the last three years have been down here," trainer Dan Hendricks said.

Runaway Dancer and T.H. Approval have met three times. Runaway Dancer has finished ahead of T.H. Approval twice, including a 2005 upset in the Grade 3 Jim Murray Handicap at Hollywood. Victor Espinoza rides Runaway Dancer.

The field also includes Group 3 winner Artiste Royal, minor stakes winner Super Strut, and front-runners Cheroot and Symphony Sid.