Eaton's Gift seized the lead inside the eighth pole and held off 1-2 favorite Benny the Bull by 1 1/2 lengths in the $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO) on Summit of Speed day at Calder Race Course July 11.
Forwardly placed by jockey Jose Lezcano while tracking the pacestting Ikigai through soft fractions, Eaton's Gift, racing three-wide, grabbed the lead and edged away to victory at odds of 14-1.
Eaton's Gift, trained by Dale Romans at Churchill Downs for owner Zayat Stables, earned a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) Nov. 7 at Santa Anita Park by winning a "Win and You're In" race.
“He’s always been a nice horse, but I didn’t really know going in if he was good enough to beat Benny the Bull if he ran his race," Romans said. "I did think today was the best chance if you were going to beat him.
Benny the Bull, the champion sprinter of 2008 who was seeking a repeat win in the Smile Sprint, was slow to engage for jockey Edgar Prado before rallying between horses in the lane. He wasn't moving fast enough to catch Eaton's Gift, however.
"When I saw how fast the other horse (Ikigai) was going, I just took back a little bit and that put us in perfect position," said Lezcano, who won the Carry Back (gr. II) earlier on the program. "I think the speed was holding today and that gave us an edge over Benny the Bull.”
Processor's Turf rallied for third along the inside for Eduardo Nunez, one length behind the runner-up, with How's Your Halo a neck back in fourth. The final time for the six-furlong event was 1:11.25.
Front-running winner of the Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park in February 2008, Eaton's Gift is now three-for-three at the six-furlong distance. The 4-year-old son of Johannesburg--Kit's Girl (by Carson City) ended a three-race losing streak.
Eaton's Gift was making his second start of the year. He ran third in an optional claiming allowance race on the turf at Churchill Downs in his last start June 28, which followed an eight-month layoff. The Smile victory, his fifth in 12 starts, was worth $124,830 and boosted his career total to $464,215.
"(Eaton’s Gift) had minor surgery to remove a little chip in his knee after his last race last year," said Romans. "I’ve had success bringing horses back from a layoff in a turf sprint before and obviously it worked good for him. Mr. (Ahmed) Zayat will decide where he runs next. I’ll be taking 28 to Saratoga. We’ll see.”
Ikigai set fractions of :21.88 and :45.04 and led past the eighth pole before fading to fifth. Yesbyjimminy trailed.
Donarra Thoroughbreds bred the winner, a $150,000 Keeneland September yearling in 2006, in Kentucky.
Sent off as the second-longest shot on the board, Eaton's Gift paid $31.20, $6, and $4.40. Benny the Bull, who has placed second in both of his starts this year for trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., returned $2.10 and $2.10. Processor's Turf was $6 to show.
"My horse ran his race, I can’t fault him at all," Prado said. "The track is favoring speed today, so that hurt us a little, but he tried hard all the way and he’s still the same horse he was last year."