Smiling Tiger Earns His Stripe in Bing Crosby
The 3-year-old Hold That Tiger colt, facing older horses for the first time, won by 1 1/2 lengths with Victor Espinoza aboard for owners Philip Lebherz and Alan Klein. Trainer Jeff Bonde collected his first grade I victory with the lightly raced Smiling Tiger, who was making just his seventh lifetime start.
Smiling Tiger, who carried 115 pounds to victory, completed the six-furlong distance in 1:09.21 over Del Mar's Polytrack.
Australian champion Scenic Blast, making his first start on a synthetic track start, rallied for second under Mike Smith, 3 1/4 lengths in front of recent Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) winner E Z's Gentleman. Cost of Freedom, who chased the leader in second after sticking in the gate at the start, tired in the stretch to finish fifth, beaten by 8 3/4 lengths.
"After all these years it's nice to get that monkey off my back with my first grade I win," Bonde said "I've won lots of graded races but when I got to grade Is, I was second, third or worse. "
Smiling Tiger, breaking from the far outside with Cost of Freedom directly to his inside, was away alertly to get the lead, sliding over to the rail as the rest of the field sorted itself out. Smiling Tiger led Scenic Blast and E Z's Gentleman early, but Cost of Freedom soon moved into the second spot as Smiling Tiger stepped the first quarter-mile in a brisk :22.41 and the half in :44.62. Smiling Tiger took a two-length lead into the stretch over Cost of Freedom, who came under a ride from Bejarano at the quarter pole and was under pressure to keep up.
"For some reason he just jumped in the air," Bejarano said of Cost of Freedom, a grade I winner who was coming off an impressive victory in the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park June 5. "Just when they opened the gate, he jumped. It cost me the race. I wanted to be on the lead, but I wasn't there. I kept him outside to keep him from taking any kickback in the face, but it was too much (to ask)."
Scenic Blast, rallying along the inside for Smith, took up the chase in the stretch, trailing by two lengths at the eighth pole. Smiling Tiger, under strong encouragement from Espinoza, held sway as Scenic Blast cut into the lead slightly in the final strides. E Z's Gentleman, drifting inward in deep stretch, held the show spot for Martin Pedroza by three-quarters of a length over Bob Baffert stablemate El Brujo. Cost of Freedom and Sky Cape, returning after a year's layoff, trailed.
Bonde said Cost of Freedom's bad start "made my horse's work a lot easier.
"It's always good to be uncontested early. It was our intention to be right on top (of the favorite) all the way. This is a special horse. I'm going to enjoy this today and then we'll see how he comes out of this race and plan for the future. Our goal is to get to the Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I)."
Smiling Tiger had not been out since winning the seven-furlong Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III) against 3-year-olds May 22 by a half-length over Concord Point , who returned to win the Iowa Derby (gr. III) June 26 in track record time at Prairie Meadows. The chestnut colt had a couple of gaps in his workouts in preparation for the Bing Crosby but drilled a bullet four furlongs at Del Mar July 18 in :47 2/5. His most recent work was at six furlongs July 24 at Del Mar in 1:12 3/5.
Never worse than third in his seven starts, Smiling Tiger has four victories and earnings of $333,864 with the winning purse of $150,000. As a 2-year-old at Del Mar, Smiling Tiger finished third behind Lookin At Lucky in both the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) and the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I).
"I knew at the break that Rafael's horse (Cost of Freedom) had missed the start. I was right next to him, I couldn't miss it," said Espinoza, who recorded his meet-leading fourth victory of the summer season. "But it didn't make any difference to me as (to) how I was going to ride the race. You don't take a hold of a horse like this. You drop the reins and let him do his thing. I did that in his last race and he just went. He's unbelievable. Really fast.
"And Jeff, you have to give him all the credit. He really knows how to train this horse. His first grade I, too. How special. (Smiling Tiger) was a really good 2-year-old. But he's even better now."
Out of the Cahill Road mare Shandra Smiles, Smiling Tiger was bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr. He sold at auction for $40,000 as a yearling in Washington in September 2008.
Sent off as the fourth choice, Smiling Tiger paid $17.80, $7.20 and $4 while keying a $105.80 exacta. Scenic Blast, a group I winner in Great Britain and Australia, carried 121 pounds and returned $6.40 and $4.20 in his second North American start for trainer John Shirreffs. E Z's Gentleman, the 123-pound high weight, was $3 to show.
Smith said of the 6-year-old Scenic Blast: "He ran dynamite. He's getting that old confidence back. He bled three times in a row (his final three races last year), but he's starting to get that good feeling back now. He's going to get better, too. Just watch."
My Summer Slew scratched.
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