It's East Versus West in Smile Sprint Handicap

It's East Versus West in Smile Sprint Handicap
Photo: Associated Press
Smokey Stover, shown winning the Sunshine Millions Sprint, will represent the West in the Smile Sprint Handicap Saturday at Calder.

The best of the East will meet the best of the West in the $500,000 Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) on Summit of Speed day at Calder Race Course July 7. The six-furlong event for 3-year-olds and up will feature Smokey Stover and Fabulous Strike, two brilliant 4-year-old gelding sprinters who enter the Smile off four-race winning streaks.

Smokey Stover and Fabulous Strike train at regional tracks on different sides of the country. Trainer Greg Gilchrist conditions Smokey Stover at Golden Gate Fields in Albany, Calif., while Fabulous Strike’s trainer, Todd Beattie, is based at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Pa.

Smokey Stover, the 122-pound highweight, races in the familiar bright orange silks of San Francisco resident Harry Aleo, who owned the ill-fated 2005 sprint champion Lost in the Fog, who was also trained by Gilchrist. Gilchrist and Aleo teamed up to win the 2006 Azalea Breeders’ Cup Stakes (gr. III) at the Summit of Speed before Lost in the Fog finished a disappointing ninth as the favorite in the 2006 Smile. Lost in the Fog had won on Summit of Speed Day in 2005, capturing the Carry Back Stakes (gr. II) by 7¼ lengths.

A little over a month after the 2006 Summit of Speed, veterinarians at UC-Davis discovered that Lost in the Fog had been racing with inoperable tumors. The colt by Lost Soldier was euthanized Sept. 17 as a result of his terminal cancer.

While Lost in the Fog was attracting headlines, Smokey Stover was quietly hinting at his promise in overnight races in California. Smokey Stover had never finished outside of the exacta in his seven starts in his 2-year-old and 3-year-old campaigns but didn’t show his full talent until this year.

Smokey Stover won his 2007 debut by 10 lengths in an open allowance test at Golden Gate. He was thrust into the national limelight with a 3½-length triumph in the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Santa Anita Park, humbling Proud Tower Too and Bordonaro. Smokey Stover returned to Northern California for his next start, a facile win in the Bay Meadows Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

The gelding became a graded stakes winner in his next start when he won the Portrero Grande Breeders ’Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita April 7, his last start to date.

In the Portrero Grande, Smokey Stover defeated Gregs Gold, who returned to win the Tiznow Stakes at Hollywood Park, and Sailors Sunset, who came back to win the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park. Sailors Sunset is the last horse to have defeated Smokey Stover; the pair ran one-two respectively in the Saguaro Handicap at Turf Paradise last October.

Smokey Stover has enough tactical speed to gain prominent early position but has done his best running from just off the pace. Such versatility has given jockey Aaron Gryder the option to place Smokey Stover in the best spot possible.

Smokey Stover was bred in Florida by Arthur Appleton. The near-black gelding is by Put it Back out of the Jolie’s Halo mare Milady’s Halo.

While Smokey Stover has been dominating in the West, Fabulous Strike has been crushing his opponents in the East and Midwest.

Fabulous Strikes’ current four-race winning streak dates back to last November, when he won the Sophomore Sprint Championship for 3-year-olds at Mountaineer Race Track & Gaming Resort by 8¾ lengths. He followed his Sophomore Sprint win with impressive victories in the Christmas Stakes (by 11 lengths) and the Panhandle Handicap (6½ lengths), both at Mountaineer.

Fabulous Strike took a step up in class for his next start, the Aristides Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs. The gelding made a quick lead in the race and never looked back, winning by two lengths under a mild hand ride. Fabulous Strike covered the six furlongs in a quick 1:07.59, five one-hundredths of a second off the track record held by Kelly’s Landing.

Earlier in his career, Fabulous Strike won the Romano Gucci and Ziggy’s Boy Stakes, both at Belmont Park. He also finished second to Diabolical in the Gallant Bob Handicap at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack.

Fabulous Strike races for his breeder, Walter Downey’s Tea Party Stable. Fabulous Strike is the first stakes winner for the Boston resident. Fabulous Strike was bred in Pennsylvania and is by Smart Strike   and out of Fabulous Find, by Lost Code.

Smokey Stover and Fabulous Strike will face five opponents in the Smile, all stakes winners or stakes-placed.

Weigelia won the Carry Back Stakes on Summit of Speed day in 2004 and captured the 2006 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap at Calder by 4½ lengths last December over Paradise Dancer and How’s Your Halo. Weigelia finished third in the 2006 Smile to Nightmare Affair and Pomeroy.

Weigelia won the Ponche Handicap at Calder two races back and followed up with a third-place finish in the Jaipur Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Belmont Park May 27.  Mach Ride, who finished fourth to Weigelia in the Ponche, returned to win the Champali Stakes at Calder by 7½ lengths.

Here’s the field, with post positions, weights, and jockeys. Post time is scheduled for 6:07 p.m. Eastern time.

1 Weigelia  118 Cornelio Velazquez
2 How’s Your Halo 113 Manoel Cruz
3 Paradise Dancer 115 Jose Lezcano
4 Fabulous Strike 122 Robby Albarado
5 Kopper Kilgoar 113 Manuel Aguilar
6 Mach Ride  116 Elvis Trujillo
7 Smokey Stover 123 Aaron Gryder

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