Grade I winners Comma to the Top and Smiling Tiger tackle four entrants from the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, making for an intriguing Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (gr. III) Dec. 3 at Betfair Hollywood Park.
The $100,000 test at six furlongs brings back three runners from the $1.5 million XpressBet Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) a month ago, including third-place finisher Smiling Tiger. The others are the Baffert-trained Capital Account and Fast Bullet.
The Underwood is carded as race 8 on Sunday's Hollywood program with a 4:05 p.m. PST probable post.
Trained by Jeff Bonde for owners Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, Smiling Tiger was outrun early in the BC Sprint as eventual winner Trinniberg took command. But the 5-year-old by Hold That Tiger finished encouragingly at 20-1 odds after angling four wide for the drive. He wound up beaten by three lengths.
Smiling Tiger is winless in four starts this year but has earned more than $1.4 million in his career while posting eight wins and 10 placings from 22 lifetime starts. He has proven his fondness for Hollywood's Cushion Track as well, winning three of four starts over the surface including a 3 1/4-length score in the 2011 Triple Bend Handicap (gr. I). He ran fifth in this year's renewal of the seven-furlong Triple Bend.
With grade I wins in the Ancient Title Stakes when it was held at Hollywood during the Oak Tree meeting in 2010 as well as in the Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar, Smiling Tiger is the most accomplished runner in the Underwood field. Rafael Bejarano takes the call from Bonde on the powerful chestnut and they will break from post 4 in a field of seven while carrying 122 pounds.
Comma to the Top is another that enjoys Hollywood's Cushion Track, registering a grade I win as a 2-year-old in the CashCall Futurity in 2010. It was one of three stakes wins over a six-week span tallied by the gelded son of Bwana Charlie during that meet.
Trained by Peter Miller for owners Gary Barber, Roger Birnbaum, and Kevin Tsujihara, Comma to the Top has won three times from six starts in 2012. Included is a half-length victory as the 7-5 favorite in the restricted Big Bear Handicap at one mile Oct. 21 at Santa Anita Park.
Comma to the Top has won 10 of 23 lifetime starts and the 4-year-old would go over $1 million in career earnings with a victory. Corey Nakatani, who rode the bay in the Big Bear, has retained the mount.
Baffert's quartet includes Fast Bullet, who ran sixth in the BC Sprint, and Capital Account, who was 12th, as well as Bank the Eight and Smash.
More was expected in the Sprint from Capital Account, who missed by a head in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I), formerly the Ancient Title, following a victory in Del Mar's Pat O'Brien (gr. II). But the Thoroughbred Legends Racing's 5-year-old son of Closing Argument broke sluggishly at odds of 7-1 and raced wide at the back of the field, never making a move.
Capital Account starts fresh after drawing the rail for the Underwood as the 124-pound highweight, and will be ridden by David Flores.
Zayat Stables' Fast Bullet came into the Breeders' Cup off a year's layoff and weakened after pressing the pace from the inside. The 4-year-old son of Speightstown has won both of his other career starts and looks to rebound under Joe Talamo.
Bank the Eight, owned by Mercedes Stable, returned from an absence of 3 1/2 months to romp by nearly six lengths in an allowance optional claiming event at seven furlongs Nov. 10 at Hollywood. The 5-year-old son of Distorted Humor makes his graded stakes debut with Garrett Gomez in the irons.
Kaleem Shah's Smash has been away for 11 months, last seen finishing seventh in last year's Malibu Stakes (gr. I) at Santa Anita. Before that, the 4-year-old Smart Strike colt had three wins and two seconds from five starts, including a runner-up effort in the Carry Back (gr. II) at Calder Casino & Race Course in July 2011. Martin Garcia is aboard for the comeback race.
Completing the field is Great Friends Stable's Private Zone, who finished second in the Damascus Stakes Nov. 3 at Santa Anita. The 3-year-old Macho Uno gelding was also entered in the Zia Park Derby this weekend but trainer Doug O’Neill said the Canadian-bred would not be making the trip to New Mexico.
$100,000 Vernon O. Underwood Stakes (gr. III, Race 8, 4:05 p.m.), 3 & Up, 6 Furlongs (All Weather)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Capital Account (KY), D R Flores, 124, B Baffert
2. Smash (KY), M Garcia, 114, B Baffert
3. Fast Bullet (KY), J Talamo, 114, B Baffert
4. Smiling Tiger (KY), R Bejarano, 122, J Bonde
5. Bank the Eight (KY), G K Gomez, 118, B Baffert
6. Comma to the Top (FL), C S Nakatani, 120, P Miller
7. Private Zone (ON), M A Pedroza, 116, D F O'Neill