There were some relieved smiles in Santa Anita's winner's circle after favored Smiling Tiger overcame a bad stumble at the start to capture the $150,000 San Carlos Handicap (gr. II) by a desperate head in the rain Feb. 19 (VIDEO).
Ridden for the first time by Joel Rosario, Smiling Tiger lurched at the break, hit the left side of the starting gate, and trailed the field.
Even though Smiling Tiger usually is placed on or near the lead, Rosario didn't panic, rallying the colt while four paths wide off the turn. In a determined effort, they managed to just get up over Captain Cherokee in the final couple of jumps. The time for the seven-furlong San Carlos was an excellent 1:20.30.
Trained by Jeff Bonde for Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz, Smiling Tiger snapped a three-race losing streak since his victory in Oak Tree's Ancient Title Stakes (gr. I) last November. He atoned for a disappointing third-place effort as the 2-5 choice in the Palos Verdes Stakes (gr. II) Jan. 22 when he was unruly in the gate and gave way in the stretch.
"It was unbelievable," an enthused Klein said afterward. "When we saw that stumble we looked at each other and thought, 'Oh no!' But he really showed his class today and this is one classy, classy horse."
This was the first win in four tries on dirt for the 4-year-old son of Hold That Tiger. Smiling Tiger, a two-time grade I winner, has not finished out of the money in 13 lifetime races, winning six.
Asked what's next for the big chestnut, Bonde said that Smiling Tiger would receive "a little spacing" after running for the third time during the meet.
"I’m not sure," he said. "He’s nominated to Dubai (Golden Shaheen, UAE-I, March 26), but he has a chance as a stallion prospect, so my big goal —- whether it’s the owners' goal or not -— is to run the horse in the Metropolitan Mile (gr. I). There might be one race before that, but I don’t know what it’ll be.”
The $500,000 Met Mile is to be run at Belmont Park on Memorial Day (May 30).
Captain Cherokee, along the inside, drifted out in deep stretch under left-handed urging from Joe Talamo and appeared to impede a tiring Ventana while finishing second, three-quarters of a length ahead of Mythical Power. Ventana was fourth, three-quarters of a length behind his Bob Baffert stablemate.
Stewards conducted an inquiry, though, and decided to make no change in the order of finish.
Captain Cherokee led early before Ventana, dueling on the outside, inched ahead under Martin Garcia at a steady clip. Mythical Power raced comfortably in third for Rafael Bajarano, about three lengths back. The first quarter-mile was run in a moderate :23, with the half gone in :45.34. Ventana never got a breather from Captain Cherokee, who took a head's advantage at the eighth pole (after six furlongs in 1:08.39) and edged away from the weakening Ventana. The latter steadied as the leader drifted outward.
Smiling Tiger, pulling his way along for a half-mile, angled out on the turn to draw even with Mythical Power and those two had aim on the leaders approaching mid-stretch. But Smiling Tiger had the clearest path through the lane and he charged home best of all.
Rosario, who replaced Russell Baze aboard the winner, said Bonde told him to go to the lead, "but he stumbled leaving the gate so I let him settle and relax. He’s a nice horse, a classy horse. He showed today he can relax and he can run from off the pace.”
“The guy rode a professional race," Bonde said of Rosario. "He did what he had to do. When the situation arose, the horse responded to him."
Carrying top weight of 121 pounds, Smiling Tiger earned $90,000 for the win to extend his career bankroll to $875,864. He paid $4.80, $3.20, and $2.60 as the 7-5 choice. Stonestreet Stable's Captain Cherokee, who also ran second in the Palos Verdes for trainer Steve Asmussen, returned $6 and $3.40, The exacta was worth $26.80. Mythical Power was $3.20 to show.
Ventana was followed by Stacy's Hope and Supreme Summit.
Bred in Kentucky by Dr. Rodney Orr, Smiling Tiger is out the Cahill Road mare Shandra Smiles and sold at auction for $40,000 as a yearling in Washington in September 2008.