Jolly Johu, a grandson of Native Dancer, sent off at odds of 12 to 1, won the $58,900 Native Dancer Handicap yesterday at Bowie.

Those in the crowd of 16,384 who did not bet on him should not have been too surprised, because Jolly Johu is a race horse that saves his best efforts for distinctive occasions.

"Put a hand in the infield, and a big crowd in the ball park, and he really perks up," trainer Bobby Adams conceded.

There was no special music at Bowie to mark the occasion. But the purse was the second biggest of the meeting and the winter temperature was in the low 70s. That was enough. Jolly Johu held on stubbornly to down Ripon by a nose.

Somebody came to the track just to bet on Ripon. The gelding opened at 10 to 1 but was 2 to 1 with the first blink of the lights on the infield tote board. Jolly Johu, meanwhile, drifted between 10 and 15 to 1, primarily because the 6-year-old gelding is one of the msot cantankerous cusses on the backstretch. He is difficult to ride, tough to train, impossible to handicap.

Not that Jolly Johu hasn't enjoyed great success before. Th gray son of Restless Native won the $100,000 Campbell Handicap of 1975 at Bowie and was second in the 1974 Belmont Stakes, separating Preakness victor Little Current and Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade. His earnings, including four stakes purses, now total $338,458.

Leroy Moyers rode Jolly Johu yesterday.

Surely Royal went out to the early lead with the winner in closest pursuit. Festive Mood was third, Resound fourth with Ripon and On The Sly bringing up the rear.

Resound, a 19-to-1 chance, swept to the lead in early stretch and drew out by nearly four lengths approaching the eighth pole. Jolly Johu kept moving along while Ripon and On The Sly appeared ready to blow past everyone.

Resound stopped abruptly near the wire and Jolly Johu inherited the lead, then lasted in a desperate finish against Ripon. The latter, sent off at 8 to 1, was nearly a length before Go Go Roger, which put On The Sly out of the money by a nose.

Jolly Johu completed the mile and a sixteenth in 1:44 1/5, paid $26 straight and combined with Ripon for a $189,40 exacta on the 1-5 combination.

"He is nominated to the Campbell (March 19) and definitely will start," Adams said. Jolly Johu carried 112 pounds yesterday.

The large crowd bet $1,940,296, highest handle of the year. Gay Jitterbug third and Legion fourth.

Ridden by Jerry Bailey, the Frenchbred Gravelines ran 1 1/2 miles on the grass in 2:24 4/5, carrying 124 pounds. The old record of 2:25 3/35 was set by Chompion in 1971, carrying 116 pounds.

The winner was second choice with the crowd of 19,272 and paid $8. $4,40 and $2,80.

It was the first grass defeat for Gay Jitterbug, also carrying 124 pounds.

Gravelines, owned by Maribel Blum and Mr. and Mrs. Robert Harpenau, was purchased in France last fall for $206,000. The 5-year-old son of Cadmus won five of eight starts in France last year and never was out of the money.