Smiling Tiger took the field all the way, holding off favored Concord Point in deep stretch to win the $100,000 Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III) (VIDEO) by a half-length May 22 at Hollywood Park.
The son of Hold That Tiger earned his initial graded stakes victory for owners Philip Lebherz and Alan Klein and trainer Jeff Bonde, defeating eight other 3-year-olds while running the seven furlongs on Cushion Track in a sharp 1:21.34.
In his second start of the year, Smiling Tiger posted his first victory since taking the Lost in the Fog Stakes at Golden Gate Fields by eight lengths last June.
With Victor Espinoza aboard, Smiling Tiger pounced to the lead just out of the gate and left the chute onto the main track with a length's advantage over a pair of Bob Baffert trainees, Macias to his inside and Concord Point on the outside. The trio made their way in that fashion down the backstretch and into the turn with Smiling Tiger clicking off sharp fractions of :22.43 and :44.78.
Smiling Tiger, with his rivals drawing alongside, continued to show the way, inching away in upper stretch while racing a bit off the rail. Espinoza, feeling pressure from Macias on the inside, urged his colt in that direction with a right-handed stick as Concord Point continued to battle on the outside. Smiling Tiger led by a length at the furlong pole but Concord Point continued to challenge past mid-stretch while Macias began to lose a bit of ground. The wire came in time for Smiling Tiger, who fought with determination under strong urging as Concord Point gradually cut into the lead.
"That was the plan, to be on the lead," said Espinoza. "He broke out of there running and I just let him go. He ran great. He’s coming back good."
Concord Point finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over the late-running Domonation, ridden by Joel Rosario. Macias, the 123-pound high weight in the Barrera field, finished fourth.
Concord Point had been in impressive in winning two of his first three starts, including a front-running first-level allowance win at Santa Anita April 14, and was a slight 5-2 favorite for his stakes debut over Smiling Tiger.
After beginning his career with a pair of wins at Golden Gate Fields, Smiling Tiger came south to Del Mar last summer. He turned in a pair of strong efforts while running third behind 2009 Eclipse Award-winning juvenile Lookin At Lucky and Make Music for Me in both the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I).
Bonde stayed off the Triple Crown trail this spring with his chestnut colt, instead holding him back until April 21 when Smiling Tiger ran third in his comeback race, the Harry Henson Stakes on the Hollywood Park turf at six furlongs.
“The first time back we took a little chance running on turf because we wanted to get a race into him," Bonde said. "He had a rough trip on the inside. He was pretty wild in the paddock but he was more professional today. I was confident he was going to run his race. He was strong and the time of the race was pretty good and I thought he really produced a top race today.”
Overall, Smiling Tiger has not been worse than third in six starts, which includes three wins and earnings of $183,864. The Barrera victory was worth $60,000 to his connections.
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr, Smiling Tiger is out of the Cahill Roadmare Shandra Smiles. He sold for $40,000 as a yearling in Washington in September 2008.
Smiling Tiger carried 121 pounds and paid $7.60, $3.80, and $3.20, topping a $27.80 exacta. Concord Point ran a game second and returned $3.60 and $3. Domonation, who rallied from fifth in the stretch, was $4.80 to show.
It was 1 1/4 lengths to Macias in fourth, followed by Skipshot , Big Man Has a Sign, Dixie Trouper, Mr Tokyo, and Hawaiian Springs. Working Capital scratched.