The 4-year-old gelding carried top weight of 122 pounds to victory with Aaron Gryder aboard for trainer Greg Gilchrist. The Florida-bred son of Put It Back stormed past pacesetter Sailors Sunset as the field came off the turn and was soon clear under mild left-handed urging. Smokey Stover completed the 6 1/2-furlong distance in a solid 1:14 4/5.
Gryder, who has been aboard Smokey Stover for the past three races, says he's impressed with the gelding's desire to compete.
"What I like is that as quick as he is, he can turn it down to whatever gear you want," Gryder said. "This is a fast horse with great acceleration and he seems to have gotten steadily better. He’s had his races spaced and he’s stepping up a notch with every race. This is a sweet horse.”
Greg's Gold, in his second start since winning the July 2005 Bing Crosby Handicap (gr. I) at Del Mar and subsequently injured, finished second with Richard Migliore riding, 1 1/2 lengths in front of Sailors Sunset and Martin Pedroza.
"Smokey Stover’s a really good horse, so my hat’s off to him," Migliore said. " I didn’t have the easiest of trips – my horse kind of got caught up behind (Sailors Sunset). Smokey Stover had good position outside of us, so I had to wait until he went on so I could come out and follow him.”
Sailors Sunset cut fractions of :21 4/5 and :44 1/5 along the inside before being tackled by Smokey Stover, who pressed the front-runner along with Greg's Gold, who raced between horses on the turn.
Smokey Stover, coming off a victory in the six furlong Bay Meadows Breeders' Cup Sprint Handicap (gr. III) last month, won for the first time in three tries at the extra sixteenth of a mile distance. Overall, he has won seven of 11 starts and has never been worse than second. The $120,000 winner's share bumped the dark bay's earnings to $459,725.
"Believe it or not, you wouldn’t know it by the way he ran, but I was a little concerned my horse was a little flat coming into this race," Gilchrist said. "The way he ran, you wouldn’t know that, but he seemed not quite as sharp down here as his did last time (winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint Jan. 27). However, when he got in the paddock and he got on his toes and he wasn’t getting warm, that was a very good sign that he was ready to meet the challenge."
Gilchrist said that he plans to space Smokey Stover's races and if he and Aleo decide to pursue the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) this year, "I want him to be really fresh and run a really good race. And not be worn out when he gets there.”
He paid $3.40, $2.20 and $2.10. Greg's Gold, whose three-race win streak was spoiled, returned $2.80 and $2.20. Sailors Sunset, who defeated Smokey Stover in a stakes at Turf Paradise last November for trainer Marcelo Polanco, was $2.40 to show. Gotaghostofachance and My Guy trailed. Bordonaro, as expected, scratched.