Smiling Tiger has won three grade one races, including the 2011 Triple Bend Handicap.

Smiling Tiger has won three grade one races, including the 2011 Triple Bend Handicap.

Smiling Tiger Heads Tough True North Field

Son of Hold That Tiger is a three-time grade I winner and had a bullet work June 1.

An accomplished field of seasoned, older sprinters, headed by grade I victors Smiling Tiger  and Giant Ryan, will vie for victory in the $400,000 True North Handicap (gr. II) on Belmont Stakes Day at Belmont Park.

Six of the eight contenders in the six-furlong contest, which is the seventh race on the card with an approximate post time of 3:15 p.m. EDT, are graded stakes winners.

The True North, named for the winner of the 1945 Fall Highweight Handicap, is the first of four graded races on the Belmont undercard. The other featured contests are the Longines Just a Game (gr. IIT), Woody Stephens (gr. II), and Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (gr. IT).

Smiling Tiger, trained by Jeff Bonde for Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, has three grade I scores under his belt: the 2010 Ancient Title and Bing Crosby, and the 2011 Triple Bend Handicap.

In his first start back following more than an eight-month layoff, the son of Hold That Tiger was a distant fifth in the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. II), but that lackluster effort didn’t seem to concern Bonde.

“He never really cared for Churchill and he was running off a long layoff—maybe he needed one (race)," Bonde explained. “We feel like we’re going into the (True North) really well.”

The West Coast-based Smiling Tiger fired a bullet work June 1 when he covered five furlongs in :59 1/5 at Betfair Hollywood Park.

“We’re going a long way to run (in the True North) and we feel the horse is training really well,” said Bonde.

In addition to his grade I victories, Smiling Tiger has scored in four other stakes, three of which were graded.

When asked what he thought of Smiling Tiger’s True North rivals, Bonde noted, “I’ve never worried about the field—I just worry about him getting his trip.”

Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr, Smiling Tiger will break from post 3 in the True North under jockey Mike Smith, who is aboard for the first time. The 5-year-old horse, who will carry 119 pounds during his initial trip to Belmont, holds an overall record of 8-2-6 from 19 starts, for earnings of $1,277,204.

Smiling Tiger’s biggest challenger in the True North appears to be Shivananda Racing’s Giant Ryan. Trained by Bisnath Parboo, Giant Ryan has a home turf advantage as he captured last year’s Vosburgh Invitational (gr. I) at Belmont at the True North distance.

Like Smiling Tiger, Giant Ryan needs to redeem an unplaced effort in his last start, a fifth in the March 31 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News (UAE-I).

Bred in New York by Becky Thomas and Lewis Lakin, Giant Ryan also took the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II) during a six-race win streak last year. The son of Freud  will be ridden by jockey Willie Martinez and will break from post 6 under top weight of 120 pounds.

Another viable contender is the seasoned Caixa Eletronica, winner the April 14 Charles Town Classic Stakes (gr. II). The son of Arromanches has won or placed in 35 of 53 starts and has a bankroll of more than $1.55 million.

Rounding out the field are Hamazing Destiny, who enters the True North off a victory in the May 19 Maryland Sprint Handicap (gr. III); other graded victors Justin Phillip  and Pacific Ocean; Royal Currier, a dual stakes winner at Belmont; and stakes-placed runner Crossbow.

$400,000 True North Handicap (gr. II, Race 7, 3:15 p.m.), 3 year olds and up Fillies, six furlongs (Dirt)
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Pacific Ocean (KY), J Rosario, 117, R E Dutrow, Jr.
2. Crossbow (KY), R A Dominguez, 115, K P McLaughlin
3. Smiling Tiger (KY), M E Smith, 119, J Bonde
4. Hamazing Destiny (KY), C S Nakatani, 117, D W Lukas
5. Royal Currier (FL), R Maragh, 116, P Farro
6. Giant Ryan (NY), W Martinez, 120, B Parboo
7. Caixa Eletronica (KY), J Castellano, 117, W M Catalano, 50-1
8. Justin Phillip (KY), J R Velazquez, 115, S M Asmussen