It's taken almost two years, but Smile Again may be ready to finally deliver. Of course, whenever someone forks over a king's ransom for a horse, it's always a tall order to come through with flying colors. But that's exactly what happened two summers ago, when owners Sid and Jenny Craig had their sights set on the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and needed a runner to sport their colors. Smile Again was there to fulfill the dream.The Craigs paid a hefty sum for the son of Wild Again, purchasing the colt from The Thoroughbred Corp. of Prince Ahmed Salman just days before the big event. And that's pretty much where the headlines stopped. Smile Again was nowhere to be found when the real running started. His sixth-place effort, it turns out, foreshadowed a tortuous road ahead.Smile Again's return on the Craigs' investment -- both in finances and in faith -- has been minimal. In fact, the 6-year-old shows up about as often as a solar eclipse. That may be changing, however, at least if Smile Again's thrilling victory over Freedom Crest in the $100,000 Bel Air Handicap (gr. II) is any sign.A field of six left the gate in the 1 1/16-mile Bel Air, and it was Smile Again who dictated things from the start. Lesters Boy was quick to join him around the first turn, but Laffit Pincay simply ignored the longshot and kept Smile Again in a smooth gallop. By the end of the backstretch, Lesters Boy was already gone, leaving Pincay and Smile Again all alone -- but not for long.Freedom Crest, the claim-gone-gold from the Richard Baltas stable, came rolling into view, moving with the same momentum that took him to the top in the San Pasqual Handicap (gr. II) last January. With three-quarters in 1:10.61 and a tiger to his outside, most figured Smile Again was done."When he came, he came pretty strong to me," Pincay later said. "But my horse was running pretty strong at that time."Call it a five-month layoff that took its toll on Freedom Crest late. Maybe it was Pincay's ineffable ability to muscle a horse to the finish. Or perhaps it was Smile Again himself, that one breakthrough moment only the heat of battle could kindle. Regardless of reason, Freedom Crest only got by for a stride or two. Smile Again came right back at him, sticking his neck out and daring his rival to keep trying. And it was just that, a neck at the end, with Smile Again prevailing in 1:41.74.Trainer Ron McAnally said another run at the Pacific Classic may be in the cards. This time, however, there may be a lot more smiles in store.
LONGSHOT HOLIDAYTakarian still has bettors stumped each time Hollywood trots out its annual Independence Day feature, the $150,000 American Handicap (gr. IIT). It wasn't his 31-1 bomb of two years ago, but that was the same ol' Takarian ringing the bell again -- this time at 14-1 -- beating Fighting Falcon at nine furlongs on July 4.The 6-year-old son of Doyoun hadn't been seen since February, an absence trainer Beau Greely imputes to an entrapped epiglottis. He looked like he never missed a beat. Ridden by Garrett Gomez, Takarian shadowed pacesetter Touch of the Blues early on, took charge leaving the final turn, and withstood the late rally of Fighting Falcon, who was making a comeback of his own for trainer Wally Dollase. They were a length apart at the wire in 1:48.19.And Takarian just might have run himself right out of California -- at least temporarily. Greely acknowledges that some horses have an affinity for Del Mar's turf course. Takarian's not one of them, leaving his trainer looking around the country for more enticing opportunities. At this point, the Arlington Million (gr. IT) is especially appealing. Takarian is owned by the partnership of Tom Nichols, John Greely, and Andrea Pollack's Columbine Stable.
WESTERN STORMGeorgia's Storm validated her status as the top younger filly out West with a decisive triumph in the $108,400 Landaluce Stakes (gr. III) on July 7. After a stylish win in the Cinderella Stakes a month prior, the 2-year-old chestnut took on six others in the Landaluce. She never gave them a chance.A quick break put Georgia's Storm in front right off the bat, and from then on, she was on her own. Covering six furlongs in 1:10.45, Georgia's Storm had 1 1/4 lengths on Respectful at the finish, giving the young stallion Illinois Storm (by Storm Cat) his first graded stakes win as a sire. Eduardo Inda, who trains Georgia's Storm for boyhood friend Reinaldo Martinez, said the Aug. 4 Sorrento Stakes (gr. II) is the next stop.Chris McCarron was up for the Landaluce victory, which was just about all the action the Hall of Famer saw over the weekend. Although the stewards slapped him with a three-day suspension for Futural's disqualification in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I), state rules still enabled him to take part in all graded events during that time. Boy, did he capitalize.Georgia's Storm set the table for an excellent afternoon, as McCarron came back later in the afternoon to help introduce Kalatiara in the $109,900 Royal Heroine Stakes (gr. IIIT) on grass. A 4-year-old daughter of Metal Storm (by Kenmare), Kalatiara was good enough to string together seven wins in her native Australia last year. Her performance in the one-mile Royal Heroine hints that she may be even better north of the equator.The decisive move came on the far turn, when Kalatiara steamed through along the rail, then swooped out again to tackle favored Dianehill. She took over for good inside the final furlong, though the final margin -- a head -- belied her superiority. The time was 1:34.41. McAnally trains the filly for Robert and Janice McNair's Stonerside Stable.