Still smarting from their most recent losses, Smiling Tiger and Amazombie will square off in a highly-competitive renewal of the $250,000 Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I) at Hollywood Park July 2.
The seven-furlong Cushion Track event, race 9 on the Hollywood program with a 5:09 p.m. PDT probable post, is one of two grade I races on the card along with the $300,000 Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT). Eight entered, including 3-year-old Bench Points.
A five-time graded stakes winner, Smiling Tiger had no luck in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II) in his most recent start May 7. The Jeff Bonde-trained colt was steadied twice while attempting to come from off the pace and wound up sixth of 12, beaten by 2 1/4 lengths, as the 5-2 favorite. It is the only time in his 15-race career that Smiling Tiger has finished worth than third.
Smiling Tiger, a 4-year-old son of Hold that Tiger owned by Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, has won both of his races over Hollywood's main track -- the Lazaro Barrera Stakes (gr. III) and Oak Tree's Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I), both last year.
The stalker won the Count Fleet Handicap (gr. III) April 14 at Oaklawn Park prior to his troubled effort at Churchill.
Smiling Tiger, a seven-time winner, enters with earnings of $999,353. He breaks from post 3 with Joel Rosario aboard while carrying 122 pounds, one less than Amazombie.
Though he was probably best, Amazombie was denied a third consecutive win when he was disqualified and placed third in the Los Angeles Handicap (gr. III) for bulling his way through an opening in deep stretch. In his prior two starts, the 5-year-old Northern Afleet gelding won the April 3 Potrero Grande (gr. II) at Santa Anita and the Tiznow Stakes on California Gold Rush Day three weeks later.
Co-owned by trainer Bill Spawr and Thomas Sanford, Amazombie has won eight of 19 and banked $505,780. Spawr is aiming for his second Triple Bend win with a California bred, having scored with Sensational Star in 1989.
Camp Victory gained the victory in the Los Angeles, his first graded win. A winner of two of three since being claimed by Mike Mitchell for $40,000 Feb. 13 at Santa Anita, Camp Victory is a 4-year-old son of Forest Camp that has won seven of 16 starts.
M One Rifle, moved up to second in the Los Angeles, will seek his third victory at seven furlongs. Owned by trainer Bruce Headley, Ed Bernstein, and Brian Greenspan, the speedy 5-year-old gelded son of One Man Army ran fourth in last year's Triple Bend, 4 ¾ lengths behind winner E Z's Gentleman. M One Rifle’s earlier victories at seven furlongs both occurred in 2009 -- the Real Good Deal for California breds at Del Mar and the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. He drew the rail and will be ridden again by Chantal Sutherland.
Undefeated in five starts around one turn, Bench Points will take on older rivals for the first time for trainer Tim Yakteen. Bench Points, to be ridden by Rafael Bejarano, was assigned 112 pounds. A California-bred son of Benchmark , Bench Points won the Lazaro Barrera Memorial Stakes May 15 in his debut at seven furlongs. It was also his first graded stakes win.
Bench Points has won five of seven races and will attempt to duplicate Zensational's Triple Bend win as a 3-year-old in 2009. Only three other sophomores have won the race in its 60-year history.
Color of Courage will make his initial appearance in graded company for owner-breeders John and Cheryl Toffan and trainer Paco Gonzalez. He has won three races in a row, though there was a 19-month gap began the first and second. Since going to the sidelines in October 2009, the 4-year-old son of Came Home was gelded.
A win by the bay would be the first in a grade I for Gonzalez since Color of Courage’s sire won the 2002 Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
Uh Oh Bango will cut back in distance after four consecutive starts around two turns. Owned by breeder Triple AAA Ranch and trained by R. Kory Owens, the Arizona-bred 4-year-old Top Hit colt won the Berkeley Handicap (gr. III) by a head over Bold Chieftain at Golden Gate Fields May 30 on the Tapeta main track. He owns a two-race win streak, the first of his career, and is 4-4-2 in a 12-race career while banking $411,612.
Trainer Bob Baffert is aiming for his third Triple Bend win in a row and a record-tying fourth overall with El Martillo.
Baffert, who won the race in 2009 with Zensational and E Z’s Gentleman a year ago, would join Charlie Whittingham, who holds the record with four Triple Bend victories, as the only trainer to win the race three times in a row. Whittingham won in succession with Porterhouse (1955-1956) and Nashville (1957).
El Martillo, a son of Tiznow owned by Maria Gomez, has back-to-back optional claiming wins to his credit, including a seven-furlong tally April 29 at Hollywood.
$250,000 Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I, Race 9, 5:07 p.m.), 3 & Up, 7 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. M One Rifle (CA), C Sutherland, 117, B Headley
2. Camp Victory (VA), J Talamo, 114, M R Mitchell
3. Smiling Tiger (KY), J Rosario, 122, J Bonde
4. El Martillo (KY), M Garcia, 115, B Baffert
5. Color of Courage (KY), D R Flores, 116, J P Gonzalez
6. Uh Oh Bango (AZ), P A Valenzuela, 116, R K Owens
7. Amazombie (CA), M E Smith, 123, W Spawr
8. Bench Points (CA), R Bejarano, 112, T Yakteen