Smiling Tiger, rebounding from a troubled trip at Churchill Downs, earned the third grade I victory of his career with a dominant performance in the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park July 2 (VIDEO).
Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz' 4-year-old son of Hold That Tiger led every step in winning the seven-furlong Triple Bend handily by 3 1/4 lengths as the second choice over Camp Victory. Favored Amazombie finished third. The final time for seven furlongs on Cushion Track was a solid 1:21.22, less than a second off the track mark of 1:20.43 set by Luhuk's Dancer in 2009.
Smiling Tiger topped $1 million in career earnings with the victory.
Joel Rosario was aboard Smiling Tiger for trainer Jeff Bonde. The chestnut colt, bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr, was a $40,000 yearling purchase at the Washington Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association's September 2008 sale.
Though the Triple Bend was not a Breeders' Cup Challenge race this year, Smiling Tiger is likely to be pointed to a return to Churchill in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 5. He ran third in the race last year.
"We’re trying to win the Breeders’ Cup (Sprint) with him," Bonde said. "We’ll go to Del Mar, just like we did last year."
Smiling Tiger won both the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) and Ancient Title (gr. I) stakes last year and just missed by a nose when second to Twirling Candy in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 26 at Santa Anita. Smiling Tiger has won three of five starts in 2011 and was coming off a fifth-place effort in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) May 7, a race in which he was forced to wait and steady in traffic twice. It was the only time in his career he finished worse than third.
"The good thing with him is that when he sees a horse close to him, he just wants to beat him," Rosario said. "In that race in Kentucky, he broke well but the horse on the outside wanted to go with me so I tried to settle him and get him to relax. But I got in trouble the whole way and had nowhere to go. It happens sometimes, it’s part of the game."
Leaving from post 3, Rosario took Smiling Tiger directly to the front over M One Rifle, who was expected to set the pace from the rail. Smiling Tiger carved strong quarter-mile fractions of :22.29 and :44.95 while leading comfortably and edged away from M One Rifle rounding the bend.
Amazombie, the 123-pound high weight, rallied on the outside for Mike Smith and loomed a danger in upper stretch. But Amazombie had no answer when Rosario asked for more from Smiling Tiger.
Smiling Tiger led by two lengths at mid-stretch and drew off from there as Camp Victory and jockey Joe Talamo overtook Amazombie, the 3-2 favorite, by 2 1/4 lengths for second.
“We got a good trip today and the horse got to express himself," Bonde said. "When he has his days he comes with a good one. This horse has the ability to go quick and still rally. He’s got a very long stride; he’s a big, long, stretchy horse. He’s not a typical sprinter-type horse to look at but he’s very athletic and he has the heart of a warrior. He comes to fight every time. He had an easy time of it today.
"Every day he seems to be a better animal. He was like a big, skinny teenager as a young horse and the older he’s gotten he’s put on muscle mass and filled out. He’s become a professional where before he was kind of a goof-off as a young guy."
Smiling Tiger bumped his earnings to $1,149,353 with the winning purse of $150,000. Smiling Tiger's record now stands at 8-1-6 from16 starts.
Bonde said both the Bing Crosby Stakes July 31 and the Pat O’Brien Stakes Aug. 28, both grade I races on Del Mar's Polytrack, are targets for Smiling Tiger.
Amazombie was attempting to atone for his disqualification following a victory in Hollywood's Los Angeles Stakes (gr. III) May 30 and was made the slight favorite. Smiling Tiger, carrying one pound less than Amazombie, was the 17-10 second choice.
"He was a little flat today," Smith said of Amazombie, "but he still ran well.”
Smiling Tiger paid $5.40, $4, and $2.80, and topped a $37.60 exacta. Camp Victory, winner of the Los Angeles on the DQ, returned $6.80 and $3.80. Amazombie was $2.60 to show.