Smiling Tiger, who came from oblivion last season to win a pair of grade I races and become a finalist as the nation's top sprinter, kicks off his 4-year-old campaign in the $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 22 at Santa Anita.
The fleet-footed son of Hold That Tiger is a standout among the seven entrants for the Palos Verdes, the seventh race on the program. The six-furlong event has a probable post of 3:36 p.m. PST.
Trained by Jeff Bonde for Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, Smiling Tiger showed his prowess on Santa Anita's new dirt track when he came up a nose short to Twirling Candy in the torrid seven-furlong Malibu Stakes (gr. I) on opening day Dec. 26. That race, in which Smiling Tiger led through the homestretch until the wire, produced a track-record time of 1:19.70, erasing a 30-year-old mark held by Spectacular Bid.
Before that, the chestnut colt turned in a solid third despite bobbling at the start, finishing 1 3/4 lengths behind Eclipse Award winner Big Drama in the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 6. Smiling Tiger previously had taken Oak Tree’s Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) over Hollywood Park's Cushion Track and Del Mar’s Bing Crosby (gr. I) on Polytrack during a 2010 campaign that ended with a 3-1-3 mark in seven starts and earnings of $651,464.
Kentucky-bred Smiling Tiger, to be ridden from the rail post by Northern California's Russell Baze under top weight of 123 pounds, carries a 5-1-5 record in an 11-race career that includes eight graded competitions and an overall bankroll of $767,864. None of Smiling Tiger's Palos Verdes rivals come close to those numbers.
Trainer Bob Baffert’s Ventana is the only other graded stakes winner in the cast.
The 5-year-old son of Toccet captured Santa Anita’s Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) last April following runner-up efforts in the San Carlos (gr. II) and last year’s Palos Verdes won by Kinsale King. All of those races were on Santa Anita's Pro-Ride track.
Rafael Bejarano has the mount on Ventana, who has been sidelined since finishing fourth in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) on dirt last May 1. Ventana, however, has been working spectacularly for his return, including a pair of six furlong drills in 1:10 1/5 from the gate. He enters this year’s Palos Verdes with earnings of $270,002 for owners Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman, winning three of 15 career starts.
Euroears, idle since July 4 at Churchill Downs, has relocated to the Baffert barn from the East. James and Marilyn Helzer's 7-year-old son of Langfuhr, previously with trainer Bret Calhoun, has won six of nine races at six furlongs but was winless in five starts last year. Euroears, an eight-time winner in 16 races, has banked $401,562. Mike Smith will be aboard.
Hunch, a 5-year-old son of Lion Heart trained by John Sadler for C R K Stable, has started only five times, winning three. He emerges from an impressive score in an optional claimer at Hollywood Park on Dec. 18. Joel Rosario rides.
Sadler also sends out Don Tito, a non-factor in the Malibu who attracts Corey Nakatani to ride.
Stonestreet Stables' Captain Cherokee, taking a big step forward for trainer Steve Asmussen, and Mike Bossio's stakes-winning Gato Go Win, second in the Vernon O. Underwood (gr. III) at Hollywood Park for trainer Robert Troeger last time out, complete the field.
Also on the program is the $75,000 Sweet Life Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 6 1/2 furlongs on turf, which immediately follows the Palos Verdes. Bonde and Baze will team up with European import Cambina in the field of 10.
$150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II, Race 7, 3:36 p.m.), 4 & Up, 6 Furlongs
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Smiling Tiger (KY), R A Baze, 123, J Bonde
2. Euroears (KY), M E Smith, 118, B Baffert
3. Ventana (KY), R Bejarano, 120, B Baffert
4. Captain Cherokee (KY), J Talamo, 118, S M Asmussen
5. Gato Go Win (FL), P A Valenzuela, 118, R Troeger
6. Hunch (FL), J Rosario, 118, J W Sadler
7. Don Tito (FL), C S Nakatani, 118, J W Sadler