05/16/2005 12:00AM

Hendricks given reason to smile

Benoit & Associates
Runaway Dancer, winning Saturday's Jim Murray Memorial Handicap under Garrett Gomez, could race next in the $150,000 Sunset Handicap July 17 at Hollywood or the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 28.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Trainer Dan Hendricks was on his way out of the winner's circle after Runaway Dancer's victory in Saturday's $350,000 , unsure of what to claim as the highlight of the day.

It was the second win of the day for Hendricks, coming an hour after Brother Derek won a maiden race for juveniles.

"I don't know which race to be more excited about - this race or the 2-year-old's," Hendricks said.

Either will do. Saturday was by far the best day of the year for Hendricks, who has won 9 races from 70 starts this year. He even displayed his dry wit when trainer Richard Mandella called via cell phone to offer congratulations during Hendricks's visit with the press after Runaway Dancer's win.

"I'm a little busy, you know," Hendricks sarcastically told Mandella.

For Hendricks, 46, Saturday gave him a much-needed lift. Last July, he was paralyzed from the waist down in a motorcycle accident. He was away from his stable for several weeks last summer while undergoing rehabilitation but was back to work by the end of the Del Mar meeting. Last fall, the stable won the $250,000 California Cup Classic with Cozy Guy.

At the time, Runaway Dancer was being given a lengthy vacation after losing his form during the spring and summer of 2004. During his break, Runaway Dancer was based at EA Ranches in San Diego County.

Owned by RL Stables, Runaway Dancer returned to the racetrack earlier this year and was quickly ready to resume exercise, Hendricks said.

"I told them to ride him on the trails for two to three weeks" before he came back, Hendricks said. "When he got back to the track, he was on the muscle."

Runaway Dancer started once before the Jim Murray, finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap over 1 1/8 miles on turf in early April. The race was too short, but Hendricks said he thought it would work as a prep to the Murray.

"He got a lot of out of that race," Hendricks said.

With Saturday's win, Hendricks said he is considering the $150,000 Sunset Handicap here on July 17 or the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap on Aug. 28 for Runaway Dancer.

Brother Derek was purchased by Cecil Peacock for $275,000 at the Barretts March sale in Pomona. Peacock got a quick return on his investment in Saturday's third race, a $57,680 maiden race. At the start, Brother Derek dropped to the back of the field after getting dirt in his face. He was sixth on the turn and still wasn't too keen on the kickback in early stretch before rallying under Alex Solis to win by a half-length, finishing 4 1/2 furlongs in a sharp 51.81 seconds.

"He hesitated twice down the lane, and Alex never hit him," Hendricks said.

Hendricks said he knew he had a promising juvenile when Brother Derek worked with a 3-year-old. "He's the real deal," Hendricks said. "I thought he was special before the race."

Saturday's two winners represented about 10 percent of the barn, which Hendricks said numbers "less than 20."

"We have space for more," Hendricks said.

Flip Flop, St Averil targeting stakes

Friday's program produced two winners bound for stakes in coming weeks - Flip Flop and St Averil.

Flip Flop won her U.S. debut in an allowance race over a mile on turf and will be pointed for the $200,000 Beverly Hills Handicap over 1 1/4 miles on turf June 25.

St Averil, who won the Grade 2 Santa Catalina Stakes in January 2004, ended a five-race losing streak with a victory in an optional claimer over 6 1/2 furlongs. Bluesthestandard, the runner-up in the 2003 Breeders' Cup Sprint, finished fifth in his debut for trainer Jeff Mullins. Bluesthestandard was eligible to be claimed for $80,000. There were no takers.

Flip Flop rallied from fourth and won by a head. In France last year, Flip Flop won the Prix Charles Laffitte over about 1 1/4 miles on turf. Friday's race was the shortest of her career.

"It was only an allowance race, but it was encouraging," said trainer Ben Cecil.

St Averil will be pointed for the $75,000 Ack Ack Handicap over 7 1/2 furlongs here June 11.

Trained by Rafael Becerra, St Averil was scratched from the 2004 Kentucky Derby because of a foot problem. Becerra admits the Derby was an optimistic endeavor.

"He was tired and he had his problems," Becerra said of St Averil's condition in the spring of 2004.

Since returning to racing in November, St Averil had struggled in allowance races and optional claimers at Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, and Santa Anita before Friday night's breakthrough.

Ridden by Garrett Gomez, St Averil rallied from last in a field of seven to win by two lengths, finishing 6 1/2 furlongs in a sharp 1:14.87.

"He showed me he's back," Becerra said. "He was training real well for this race. I told Garrett, 'He will give you one kick.' "

Surf Cat looks ahead to Affirmed Handicap

Surf Cat is bound for the $100,000 Affirmed Handicap on June 18 after dusting six rivals in an allowance race over 6 1/2 furlongs Sunday.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Surf Cat stalked the pace to early stretch and pulled away impressively to win by 4 1/2 lengths. He was timed in 1:14.44.

"The finish was spectacular," said trainer Bruce Headley.

Owned by Headley's wife, Aase, and Marsha Naify, Surf Cat has won 2 of 4 starts and has never been worse than second.

The Affirmed Handicap will mark the longest race of Surf Cat's brief career. Run over 1 1/16 miles, the Grade 3 Affirmed is a prep to the $400,000 Swaps Stakes at 1 1/8 miles July 9.

The first graded stakes of the meeting for 3-year-olds, the Grade 2, $150,000 Laz Barrera Memorial Stakes over seven furlongs, is Saturday's top race. High Standards, who won the San Pedro and Baldwin stakes earlier this year, is a top candidate.

Makeup Artist provides scare in workout

Before trainer John Shirreffs left for Kentucky on Sunday to oversee Giacomo's preparation for Saturday's Preakness Stakes, he had a brief scare when the stakes winner Makeup Artist worked Sunday morning.

Makeup Artist was two furlongs into a six-furlong workout when another horse drifted toward the rail, directly into Makeup Artist's path. As exercise rider Sabina Seibel began to guide Makeup Artist to the outside of the track, away from the other horse, that horse also moved to the outside.

Seibel jerked Makeup Artist back to the inside, missing the other horse and avoiding an accident.

Makeup Artist continued through her workout, finishing in 1:15.40. She is being pointed for the Gamely Handicap.

Desormeaux brings in new agent

Kent Desormeaux, currently riding in Japan, has hired jockey agent Tommy Ball to be his representative. Ball replaces Harry Hacek, who resigned earlier this month.

Ball said that Desormeaux will ride at the Hollywood Park spring-summer meeting on Memorial Day, May 30, and return to Japan for major stakes in early June.

Ball said that Desormeaux "will be back for good" in mid-June.