06/14/2007 12:00AM

Runaway Dancer gets rare opportunity


INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Runaway Dancer's career has been geared to races such as Saturday's $75,000 Round Table Handicap at 1 3/4 miles on turf at Hollywood Park.

The trouble has been that such opportunities barely exist. Until Saturday's first running of the Round Table, the only race at this distance in California has been the prestigious Grade 2 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at about 1 3/4 miles on turf at Santa Anita each April.

For a variety of reasons, the 8-year-old Runaway Dancer, a winner of 7oof 37 starts and $682,801, has started once in the San Juan Capistrano, finishing third in 2004. He will be part of the lineup in the Round Table, starting as the 120-pound topweight.

"We've always wanted to try farther," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "There's only one a year, and it never comes up at the right time."

In the Round Table, Runaway Dancer will attempt to end a six-race losing streak, dating back to his victory in the restricted Escondido Handicap at Del Mar last summer. Runaway Dancer is winless in three starts this year, including a fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Jim Murray Memorial Handicap at 1o1/2 miles on turf here May 12. Last fall, he finished second in the Grade 1 Hollywood Turf Cup.

"I can't pinpoint one reason or another" for the inconsistency, Hendricks said. "Everyone was writing him off last year, and he won the little stakes and finished second in the Grade 1."

Runaway Dancer will try different tactics in the Round Table. Hendricks will instruct jockey Alex Solis to keep Runaway Dancer "covered up" behind rivals instead of racing on the outside of horses.

"He'll get the mile and three-quarters," Hendricks said. "We'll cover him up no matter the pace and let him make his run."

Runaway Dancer has the highest earnings of the nine entrants, who include Running Free, winner of the Quicken Tree Stakes for California-breds at 1 1/2 miles on May 25; Church Service, a sharp allowance winner at Santa Anita in April; and Key of Solomon, who won the Hasta La Vista Handicap at 1 7/8 miles on turf at Turf Paradise on May 6.

Running Free is trained by Kristin Mulhall, who said she took a chance starting Running Free in the Quicken Tree to see if he could handle the distance. She is taking the same approach in the Round Table.

"We have no options," she said. "These are better horses."