Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz's Smiling Tiger put in a game rally down the center of the track in Sunday's Grade 3, $100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes at Hollywood Park and gutted out a one-length victory over Private Zone for trainer Jeff Bonde. The chestnut sprinter's most recent score came seven starts ago when taking the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap in 2011, but he got back to his winning ways when completing this six-furlong contest in 1:11 1/5 over the Cushion Track.
Smiling Tiger bided his time in fourth behind Private Zone, who was pressed on the backstretch by Smash and Comma to the Top through splits of :22 4/5 and :46 1/5. Comma to the Top drew alongside the leader entering the turn, and Smiling Tiger wasn't far behind as the field hit the stretch.
While Private Zone was busy turning back Comma to the Top, Smiling Tiger was surging down the center of the track under jockey Rafael Bejarano. The Hold That Tiger five-year-old easily passed the early pacesetter and pulled away as the 8-5 favorite to pay $5.40, $3.20 and $2.20.Private Zone was best of the rest by a half-length over Capital Account, who also came with a late run to nip Comma to the Top by a nose on the wire. Comma to the Top broke in the air before rushing up to challenge early in the race, but had to settle for fourth on the line. Smash and Bank the Eight completed the order of finish after Fast Bullet was withdrawn.
Smiling Tiger earned a name for himself during the 2010-11 seasons by capturing three Grade 1 contests (Bing Crosby, Triple Bend, Ancient Title), a Grade 2 (San Carlos Handicap) and a pair of Grade 3s (Count Fleet Handicap, Lazaro Barrera Memorial). Since 2009 he's also placed in six Grade 1 events -- including two editions of the Breeders' Cup Sprint, most recently running third in that championship race prior to his Underwood score -- as well as the Malibu, Del Mar Futurity and Pat O'Brien.
Smiling Tiger, who also boasts a win in the 2009 edition of the Lost in the Fog, improved his record to read 23-9-2-8 with the Underwood and has now banked $1,480,704 in lifetime earnings.
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr, Smiling Tiger made two sales appearances as a yearling. He RNA'ed for $32,000 at the 2008 Keeneland January sale before selling for $40,000 at the Washington September sale.
He is out of the stakes-winning Cahill Road mare Shandra Smiles, who is a half-sister to Grade 3 runner-up Traci Girl. This is the same female family as 1986 Grade 2 Carter Handicap winner Love That Mac, who ran second in the 1986 editions of the Met Mile and Vosburgh, both Grade 1s, as well as 1983 Group 1 Prix de Diane (French Oaks) victress Escaline.