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Smiling Tiger Ready to Roar in Bing Crosby

Asked for an assessment of the current state of the sprint division on a national teleconference call earlier this week, Smiling Tiger trainer Jeff Bonde was forthright and, some might say, parochial.

“I still think that the West Coast horses are stronger, that’s only my opinion. And there’s lots of opinions in the world so I’m not here to say I’m right or I’m wrong,” said Bonde, who’ll saddle Smiling Tiger for a title defense in Sunday’s $250,000, Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes.

“I think my horse and Bob Baffert’s horse (Euroears) are both very good horses,” Bonde continued.  “There are some nice sprinters on the East Coast no doubt. But I wouldn’t trade places with anybody personally.”

The Bing Crosby stacks up as the ultimate mid-year indicator of the West Coast sprint talent. In addition to Smiling Tiger, the field of seven includes the aforementioned Euroears, California-bred speedster Amazombie and comebacking Kinsale King, the winner of the 2010 $2-million Golden Shaheen sprint in Dubai.

Smiling Tiger was a 1 ½-length winner in 1:09.21 for six furlongs in the 2010 Crosby. It was one of two Grade I triumphs in a campaign that produced three wins in seven starts and earnings of $651,464. The 4-year-old Hold That Tiger colt has three wins in five starts this year and comes into the Crosby off a 3 ¼-length score in the Grade I Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park.

This year’s Crosby field is deeper in numbers and quality from the five Smiling Tiger dispatched in 2010. And Northern California native Bonde, 56, cites a few positives in his horse’s favor.

“He’s just a more mature horse, he’s gotten better with age and he’s kind of filled out and no longer a teenager. He’s kind of like a man,” said Bonde, who has a full stable at Del Mar for the first time this summer.

“He’s one of the few horses that I really don’t worry about who he’s racing with. I just hope he comes with his best performance because he’s a true competitor and if you beat him you’re going to have to run one whale of a race usually.”

When last they met, on January 11 in the Palos Verdes at Santa Anita, Euroears was the winner by 2 ¼ lengths over Captain Cherokee with Smiling Tiger another 2 ¼ lengths back in third. Euroears subsequently ran second in the Golden Shaheen at Dubai on March 26 and will be making his first start since then in the Crosby.

There appears to be mutual respect between the two trainers.

“Bob Baffert’s a very good trainer and he has a very good line-up of horses and that horse I’m sure will be a great competitor on that day,” Bonde said.

“I’m afraid of him (Smiling Tiger); he’s very tough,” Baffert said. “My horse just brings a lot of heat from the start. He has no ‘whoa’ in him.”

Smiling Tiger has six wins in nine starts on synthetic surfaces like Del Mar’s Polytrack and has one win and three thirds in four starts here. Still, Bonde doesn’t think his ’Tiger should be categorized as a synthetic specialist.

“He’s the most versatile horse I have in my barn. I think we could run him on broken glass and it wouldn’t matter,” Bonde said.  “He comes to run every time and he doesn’t let surface be an excuse for him.”

Joel Rosario has been aboard Smiling Tiger for his last four starts, which have produced three victories.  “Joel fits the horse very well because he has a knack of getting a horse relaxed and that makes a big difference on my horse,” Bonde said. “He’s kind of a type A guy and Joel has been a very positive force for that horse, I think.”



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