11/20/2003 12:00AM

Turf Cup opens up

Michael Burns Photo Ltd.
Bowman Mill may inherit the early lead in the Hollywood Turf Cup, a prospect that does not displease his trainer, Michael Dickinson.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Earlier this week, the $250,000 on Saturday was shaping up as a clash between high-profile stakes winners The Tin Man and Megahertz.

Neither was entered on Thursday. The Tin Man injured an ankle and is unlikely to start until next year. Trainer Bobby Frankel had second thoughts about paying $15,000 to supplement and start the 4-year-old Megahertz against males. She will be pointed for the Dahlia Handicap on Dec. 20.

The absence of those two leaves the Turf Cup with a competitive field of nine that lacks a heavy favorite. Frankel has three starters - Epicentre, Staging Post, and Continuously - who were sixth through eighth in the Grade 3 Carleton Burke Handicap at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Runaway Dancer, the 38-1 upset winner of the Burke, is entered in the Grade 1 Turf Cup over 1 1/2 miles, trying to prove his last win was not a fluke. Aside from the Frankel trio, his toughest competition includes Bowman Mill, a stakes winner in Canada in September, and Labirinto, a multiple stakes winner in France.

Frankel said he was unhappy with having owner Michael Bello pay $12,500 for a supplement nomination for Megahertz and then face $2,500 in additional fees to enter and start.

Megahertz finished fifth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita on Oct. 25. Earlier this year, she won the John Mabee and Santa Barbara handicaps.

"It just doesn't make sense," Frankel said of the supplemental nomination. "A week ago, I could have nominated for $250. I wish I had, but I wasn't thinking about running a filly against colts."

Frankel's three starters were imported from Europe last year and have yet to win a stakes in the United States.

Staging Post has come closest, finishing second in the San Juan Capistrano and Bowling Green handicaps earlier this year. Continuously was third in the Del Mar Handicap in August. Epicentre was beaten only two lengths in the Burke after a troubled trip in the stretch.

They all may be chasing Bowman Mill, who was expected to stalk The Tin Man. Such a scenario does not discourage trainer Michael Dickinson, who has guided Bowman Mill to 4 wins in 10 starts.

"He'll be close to the lead," Dickinson said. "He's very happy on the lead."

Labirinto needs a quick pace to help his late-closing style. He is making his 15th start of the year, and is the first starter for trainer Leonard Powell, 27.

In the Burke, Labirinto closed from eighth in a field of nine to finish a neck behind Runaway Dancer in his final start for trainer Rodolphe Collet. Eric Saint-Martin rode Labirinto in the Burke, but Kentucky-based Brice Blanc has the mount on Saturday.

Runaway Dancer is unbeaten in three starts at 1 3/8 miles on turf or farther - two allowance races at Del Mar and the Burke at 1 1/2 miles.

"We found what he likes," trainer Dan Hendricks said. "It's hard to find out in California that a horse wants to go a mile and three-eighths or a mile and a half."

Owned by RL Stables, Runaway Dancer can be near the front, Hendricks said, a tactic that could be beneficial if the pace is slow.

In the Burke, Runaway Dancer rallied from last in a field of nine under jockey Mike Smith. The upset did not surprise Hendricks, although the win did not translate into a parimutuel triumph for Hendricks or his staff when Runaway Dancer paid $78.20.

"The whole barn talked about how good he was doing for two weeks," Hendricks said. "In the winner's circle, we looked at each other and said, 'Not me, either.'

"According to Mike Smith, he can lay anywhere he wants. He's a very versatile horse. He says it doesn't matter. That's why we're going right in the Grade 1. Everything looks great."