08/24/2005 11:00PM

Hendricks stable ready to pounce


DEL MAR, Calif. - For the first five weeks of the Del Mar meeting, trainer Dan Hendricks's stable has been better known for making a claim than winning races. Hendricks had won only one race entering Friday's card, but on July 22, Hendricks claimed Smoocher on behalf of owners John and Allegra Ernst for a Del Mar record $125,000.

For the final two weeks of the meeting, Hendricks is hopeful that his stable can play a major role in important stakes. Sunday, Hendricks starts Runaway Dancer in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf. Next week, Smoocher and Brother Derek, a 2-year-old, are likely to appear in stakes.

"I've run 12 so far; I think I'll have 12 or more to run in the last 10 days," Hendricks said Thursday. "That's just the way it happened. I ran a lot at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park."

Having an active stable, as well as a few stakes horses, has been a boost for Hendricks. His stable is up to 24 horses, its highest total over the last year.

A year ago at this time, he was in rehabilitation after suffering a motorcycle accident in July 2004 that left him paralyzed from the waist down. He uses a wheelchair to get around.

"Since the accident, I've got it built back up," he said of his stable.

Stable morale has been boosted by the success of Runaway Dancer, who races for RL Stables. A 6-year-old gelding, Runaway Dancer won the $350,000 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at Hollywood Park in May and finished second as the favorite in the Grade 2 Sunset Handicap on July 17.

In the latter race, Runaway Dancer made a remarkable rally from last in the final half-mile under Garrett Gomez, but finished three-quarters of a length behind Always First, another Del Mar Handicap entrant.

"I think he made too big of a move, too quickly," Hendricks said. "They were all moving and running, but he made up so much ground that I think it surprised Garrett."

On Wednesday, Runaway Dancer worked a half-mile on turf in 47.60 seconds, the best of six recorded works at the distance. Working at his office desk on Thursday, Hendricks turned to exercise rider Luis Ortega, who was hanging up tack, and asked him about the workout. "He worked so-so," Ortega said, flashing a visitor a mischievous smile.

Hendricks caught on to the joke quickly. It is the sort of sly comment he would make.

"Everything is pointing toward 'go,' " Hendricks said. "He is healthy and happy. I think he's in his best form. If we get an honest pace, we'll be fine."

Twelve entered the Grade 2 Del Mar Handicap and a full field of 10 is expected to run. Runaway Dancer drew the rail. Laura's Lucky Boy and Sarafan, the first two finishers of the Escondido Handicap on Aug. 3, drew the two outside post positions.

The 2-year-old Brother Derek won his only start, a maiden race on May 14. He was plagued by foot problems and illness later in the spring. Hendricks has trained Brother Derek without shoes, including workouts, in recent weeks.

"I don't know when I'll put the shoes back on," he said.

Brother Derek may run in the $100,000 I'm Smokin Stakes for California-breds on Sept. 5 or the $250,000 Del Mar Futurity on Sept. 7.

Smoocher is being considered for the $350,000 Del Mar Breeders' Cup Handicap over a mile on turf on Sept. 4 or the $80,000 Pirate's Bounty Handicap on Sept. 7.

Lava Man now likely to stay in California

Lava Man, third as the beaten favorite in the $1 million Pacific Classic last Sunday, may start in the $500,000 Goodwood Breeders' Cup Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 1, and not the $1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park the same day.

Thursday, trainer Doug O'Neill and co-owner Steve Kenley were discussing their options and were leaning toward keeping Lava Man at home in California. "I'd rather run here," O'Neill said.

The winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup last month, Lava Man was vanned off following the Pacific Classic. O'Neill insists that Lava Man suffered from heat exhaustion. Through Thursday, Lava Man has kept his appetite, O'Neill said, adding, "We haven't seen any fatigue, other than right after the race."

The Grade 2 Goodwood, run over 1 1/8 miles, will be an important prep for the $4 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 29. Borrego, the upset winner of the Pacific Classic, and Rock Hard Ten, unraced since winning the Santa Anita Handicap in March, are among the probable starters.

Captain Squire returns with a vengeance

Captain Squire, a multiple stakes winner, ended a layoff of more than a year on Wednesday by nearly breaking the 35-year-old track record for 5 1/2 furlongs.

Ridden by Alex Solis, Captain Squire led throughout to win by four lengths, finishing in 1:02.26. Ack Ack set the record of 1:02.20 in 1970.

Owned by Bob Bone and Jeff Diener and trained by Jeff Mullins, Captain Squire had been off because of ankle and knee problems.

"He had some problems we were unable to detect until we did surgery," Mullins said. "He showed he's back now."

Mullins said he was uncertain where Captain Squire would run next, but the Breeders' Cup Sprint has not been dismissed as a long-term goal. Captain Squire was seventh in the 2003 BC Sprint.

Midnight Lute off to Ohio for surgery

Midnight Lute, a maiden winner in his debut on July 25, was sent to Ohio State University on Wednesday to undergo a throat operation, trainer Bob Baffert said.

The surgery will keep Midnight Lute out of training for approximately 30 days and it eliminates him from consideration for the major races for 2-year-old males this fall.

The "tie-back" surgery is designed to help his breathing, Baffert said. Baffert said the colt has had breathing problems all summer.

Midnight Lute won over six furlongs by 1 1/4 lengths. The colt is by Real Quiet.

Baffert has had a horrible meeting with his 2-year-olds. On Aug. 19, What a Song, a two-time stakes winner, was euthanized after suffering a leg injury during a gallop.

Joyful Ballad injured, euthanized

Joyful Ballad, who was entered for Friday's $80,000 CTT and TOC Handicap, was euthanized on Wednesday after suffering an apparent head injury while schooling.

The injury reportedly happened near the receiving barn. Owned and bred by Glen Hill Farm and trained by Tom Proctor, Joyful Ballad, 5, won 6 of 20 starts and $164,925.