Smiling Tiger, reunited with jockey Russell Baze, earned his second grade I win of the season when he put away Cost of Freedom in the stretch and held on for a half-length victory in Oak Tree's $250,000 Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) (VIDEO) at Hollywood Park Oct. 9.
This was the first grade I win for Baze, racing's all-time winning jockey with 11,049 victories, since he won the King's Bishop (gr. I) at Saratoga in 2005 aboard champion sprinter Lost in the Fog.
Smiling Tiger is expected to make his next start in the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6.
Jeff Bonde trains Smiling Tiger for owners Philip Lebherz and Alan Klein.
"We're definitely going to go for the Breeders' Cup (Sprint)," Lebherz told TVG. "This was a Breeders' Cup warm-up. It's $60,000 to enter -- like a $60,000 bet. But now (after winning the Ancient Title), we feel real confident."
Smiling Tiger completed the six furlongs in 1:09.37 over Hollywood's Cushion Track. Winner of the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 1, the 3-year-old son of Hold that Tiger rebounded from a third-place finish in Del Mar's Pat O'Brien Stakes (gr. I) when he tired at seven furlongs Aug. 28.
Supreme Summit closed from fourth in the final strides to nail down second, with E Z's Gentleman edging Cost of Freedom for third.
Smiling Tiger heads into the Breeders' Cup having won three of five starts in 2010, including the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes (gr. III) over Hollywood's Cushion Track in May. The Kentucky-bred chestnut colt has never been worse than third in nine lifetime starts, winning five.
Cost of Freedom broke smartly to take the early lead with Smiling Tiger and Baze right on his outside flank where he remained through quarter-mile fractions of :22.12 and :44.53. Those two had things to themselves into the homestretch when Smiling Tiger took a slight edge. Cost of Freedom, though, battled back along the inside before Smiling Tiger inched away under left-handed urging inside the eighth pole.
"That was a very good horse he looked in the eye (Cost of Freedom) and fought off," Baze said of Smiling Tiger. "It just shows how game he is. He's 100% racehorse."
“We knew that Cost of Freedom was going to go hard early, and we were fortunate to draw outside of him," Bonde said. "We were very concerned with getting a good break, because that hurt us in our last race (the Pat O'Brien). We’ve always felt six furlongs is his best distance, so we felt like we had a really good shot coming in.
“He’s a free runner, and he just doesn’t want you to bother him early. Today he was unmolested early, so he’s able to stalk. He just doesn’t like a guy taking a hold of him and see-sawing him around. In the Pat O’Brien, he was kind of taken out of his game. It’s a distance that’s tough for him. But at three quarters, he’s a tough horse.”
E Z's Gentleman, third throughout for jockey Martin Garcia, drew closer as the late-running Supreme Summit charged home on the outside for Rafael Bejarano.
Supreme Summit, who trailed for a half-mile, made it close but ran out of time while finishing three-quarters of a length clear in second. E Z's Gentleman earned the show spot by a nose over Cost of Freedom.
"The winner had a lot of horse, he was still running to the end," Bejarano said. "I broke good and was maybe four or five lengths from the winner. When we straightened out, he was in the clear and finished well."
Gato Go Win ran fifth. Disappointing was 2009 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Dancing in Silks, who could not make an impact after chasing the pace into the stretch. He finished sixth in the seven-horse field. New Bay trailed.
Dr. Rodney Orr is the winning breeder. Smiling Tiger, a $40,000 buy as a yearling in Washington in September 2008, is out of the Cahill Road mare Shandra Smiles.
Smiling Tiger earned $150,000 for the victory and hiked his career total to $519,864. He began his career in Northern California last year, teaming with Baze for victories in his maiden debut by six lengths and in the Lost in the Fog Stakes by eight lengths, both at Golden Gate Fields. Baze last rode the colt in a third-place effort behind Lookin At Lucky in the Best Pal Stakes (gr. II) at Del Mar in August 2009. Smiling Tiger completed his 2-year-old campaign with a third-place finish behind Lookin At Lucky again in the Del Mar Futurity (gr. I).
Sent off as the narrow fourth choice, Smiling Tiger paid $9.20, $5.20 and $3 and topped a $45.60 exacta. Supreme Summit, making his first start for trainer Mike Puype, returned $4.80 and $2.80. E Z's Gentleman, winner of Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) in his most recent start at Hollywood July 10, was $2.60 to show.
"This should set him up for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint," trainer Bob Baffert said of E Z's Gentleman. "He likes Churchill Downs; he won there earlier in the year."