05/10/2006 11:00PM

Grey Swallow tough first out


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - In his first three campaigns, there has been one constant in Grey Swallow's brilliant career. He has always won his first start of the year.

In 2003, it was a maiden race. In 2004, his seasonal debut came in a minor stakes, and the ensuing campaign included a win in the Irish Derby. Last year, he won the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup in Ireland.

This year, debut comes in Saturday's $250,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1 1/2 miles on turf at Hollywood Park. The Grade 2 Murray is his first start since he finished third in the Canadian International at Woodbine in October and was demoted to fourth for causing interference.

Judging from the comments of Robert Dolan, an assistant trainer to Dermot Weld who accompanied Grey Swallow to California, Grey Swallow should win the fifth stakes of his career in the Murray.

"Whatever beats him will win," Dolan said. "He could be a really good horse out here. He's feeling as well as he's ever been."

Grey Swallow, a winner of 5 of 12 starts and $1.4 million, is by far the most accomplished member of the field. His last win, in the Tattersalls Gold Cup last May, came against Bago, the winner of the 2004 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

Saturday, Grey Swallow's main opposition is not as daunting. The top contenders include , last year's Murray winner; and One Off, the runner-up in the San Juan Capistrano Handicap last month.

Runaway Dancer is winless in five starts since the 2005 Murray, but his last two races were at a mile, a distance shorter than his ideal trip.

Thursday, Grey Swallow had a seven-furlong exercise on the main track at Hollywood Park, which Dolan described as slower than a workout. Grey Swallow worked a mile on turf last Sunday, alleviating any concern about how he would handle Hollywood's ultra-firm turf course.

A stalker, Grey Swallow is expected to track King's Drama, who led throughout when he won the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf at Saratoga last summer.

Trained by Bobby Frankel for Gary Tanaka, King's Drama has won four stakes.

"He doesn't have to be on the lead," said Humberto Ascanio, Frankel's assistant. "He can be close. He's an honest horse."