Last season, IEAH Stables and partners’ Benny the Bull capped a five-race win streak in the Smile Sprint Handicap (gr. II), a victory that solidified his Eclipse Award as the nation’s top sprinter. Now, months after being brought back from retirement the 6-year-old horse will try to win the event for the second year in a row, as he takes on five rivals July 11 at Calder Race Course.
Like he did in 2008, Benny the Bully will carry top weight of 124 pounds in the six-furlong Smile Sprint, which along with the Princess Rooney Handicap (gr. I) is the co-feature of Calder’s Summit of Speed Day that boasts seven sprint stakes worth a total of $1.45 million. The $350,000 Smile Sprint will go as race 10 on the 13-race program. Post time is scheduled for 4:55 p.m. EDT.
As part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" series, the Smile will afford its winner an automatic starting berth to the $2 million Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 7.
A little more than a month after Benny the Bull won last year’s Smile Sprint, he was diagnosed with an ankle chip in his right front foot that prompted his retirement. But his connections had a change of heart after the son of Lucky Lionel fully recovered and it was announced in January that he was being returned to the track.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. landed on the June 6 True North Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont for Benny’s return, and despite a 10-month layoff he ran a big race, finishing only 1 1/4 lengths back of Fabulous Strike, who burned six furlongs in 1:07.85.
Bred in Florida by Tomoka Farms, Benny the Bull should be set up well for a big effort in his second start off a layoff. A winner of nine of 18 starts, including the 2008 Gulf News Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I), and earnings of more than $2.2 million, the 6-5 morning-line favorite will break from post 4 with regular rider Edgar Prado aboard. The late-running horse will hope for a hot pace up front from a pair of starters who have shown early speed in the past.
One of them is Edmund Gann’s Ikigai, a 4-year-old son of Whywhywhy who has captured four of five career starts at Calder. Winner of the Mr. Prospector Stakes (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park in January, Ikigai failed to fire in his last two starts, finishing off the board in stakes efforts at Fair Grounds and Charles Town.
Ikigai, to be will be ridden by Jermaine Bridgmohan and the 3-1 second choice, is one of two starters for Gann and trainer Marty Wolfson. He will oppose stablemate Processor's Turf, a 4-year-old son of Sky Mesa looking for his first win in nearly 16 months.
Also capable of early speed is Zayat Stables’ Eaton's Gift, wire-to-wire winner of the 2008 Swale Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream. Eaton’s Gift has won just once in six starts since that victory, however, and was third in his seasonal debut June 28 at Churchill Downs, an optional claimer on the turf. Jose Lezcano will ride for trainer Dale Romans.
The field is completed by a pair of local horses that have had nice success at Calder. Trilogy Stables’ Yesbyjimminy won six consecutive starts at Calder at one point last season, capped by a victory in the Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap (gr. III) in December. The bay horse is winless in three starts this season for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr.
How's Your Halo, owned and trained by Brian Prichard, has four wins in 25 starts at Calder, including a four-length score last out in the June 13 Ponche Handicap. He also won the Richter Scale Sprint Stakes (gr. II) at Gulfstream in February. The 6-year-old Halo's Image horse was runner-up to Benny the Bull in last year’s Smile Sprint and fourth in 2007.