05/05/2012 8:08PM

Hollywood: Morning Line fast when it counts in Mervin LeRoy

Benoit & Associates
Morning Line, ridden by Joseph Talamo, holds off Prayer For Relief to win the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - After taking his time getting to the start gate for Saturday’s $150,000 MervynLeRoy Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park, Morning Line left no doubt who was best in the Grade 2 stakes.

Morning Line ($13.20) set early fractions of 23.57 and 47 seconds, leading by 1 1/2 lengths on the backstretch. He held off a late threat from 8-1 Prayer for Relief to win by a half-length, finishing 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.42. Kettle Corn, making his first start since December, finished third in the field of nine. Awesome Gem, the 9-year-old gelding and 5-2 favorite, finished eighth after racing in fourth on the turn.

Morning Line was ridden by Joe Talamo, his second stakes win of the day.  Talamo won the Cool Frenchy Stakes earlier on the card with Flightofalifetime.

The MervynLeRoy was Morning Line’s first start for trainer John Shirreffs. Previously trained by Nick Zito, Morning Line won the 2010 Pennsylvania Derby, finished second in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that year, and won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in 2011. The Mervyn LeRoy was Morning Line’s first start since an 11th in the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga last August.

A 5-year-old horse by Tiznow, Morning Line had a minimal warm-up before the Mervyn LeRoy. As the field approached the gate, Morning Line was still a quarter-mile up the stretch, being coaxed toward the start.

Morning Line, who races for Will Farish, Dixiana Stable and Thoroughbred Legends Racing Stable, has won 5 of 13 starts and $1,212,300. Shirreffs said the $150,000 Californian Stakes over 1 1/8 miles on June 2 is likely to be Morning Line’s next start.