11/27/2006 12:00AM

Running Free much sharper since layoff

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INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Over the last few years, Running Free has been the sort of horse capable of running a big race, but he hasn't been able to string several top performances together. Trainer Kristin Mulhall said she believes the 5-year-old Running Free has now reached a more consistent phase of his career.

Since returning from a layoff of nearly nine months in October, Running Free has run third in an optional claimer and second in the California Cup Mile. Mulhall is confident that Running Free can win for the first time since August 2005 in a $52,000 allowance race at a mile on turf at Hollywood Park on Wednesday.

"His last two races have been huge since we gave him time off," Mulhall said.

Mulhall said that Running Free was rested because of a severe abscess that required considerable time to heal. "We stopped and let his feet grow out," she said.

In the California Cup Mile, Running Free closed from third to finish a head behind Epic Power.

"I thought he'd win," Mulhall said. "He would have won if he hadn't stumbled away from the gate."

Running Free has won 6 of 24 starts and $418,532. He won two stakes in 2005 - the Khaled Stakes for statebreds at Hollywood Park in April and the restricted Harry Brubaker Handicap at Del Mar in August. His form tailed off badly in his first two starts this year, finishing 12th and 10th before the layoff.

Running Free drew post 2 in a field of seven on Wednesday. The race has drawn a solid field, including New Export, the winner of an allowance race here on Nov. 4; Terroplane, who was second in the Thunder Road Handicap at Santa Anita in February; and Night Chapter, who was fourth in the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger at the Meadowlands in September.

Terroplane has not raced since finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Arcadia Handicap at Santa Anita in April. A 5-year-old gelding, Terroplane returned from a three-month layoff to win a one-mile allowance last January.

Wednesday's program is leading jockey Martin Garcia's first day as a journeyman after his apprentice claim expired on Sunday. Through Sunday, Garcia had 16 wins, one more than Garrett Gomez and Aaron Gryder.

On Wednesday's eight-race program, Garcia has five mounts, including contenders Victory Style in the fifth race and One Sock Wonder in the sixth race.