HOT SPRINGS, Ark. -- Smiling Tiger reiterated his standing as one of the nation's most elite sprinters Thursday at Oaklawn Park, when he swept to a commanding, 2 1/2-length win in the Grade 3, $200,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap.
"That was beautiful," said Jeff Bonde, who trains Smiling Tiger for Alan Klein and Lebherz Racing.
Bonde said Smiling Tiger could run next in either the Grade 2, $300,000 Churchill Downs on May 7, or the Grade 1, $500,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 30. He said he is inclined to await the Met Mile because Smiling Tiger does well with a good amount of time between starts.
The point was driven home in the Count Fleet. The race was Smiling Tiger's first start since Feb. 19, when he won the Grade 2 San Carlos at Santa Anita. He trailed the field early, with Chief of Affairs showing the way through an opening quarter in 22.29 seconds and the half-mile in 44.74. Smiling Tiger advanced on the turn, took command of his rivals nearing the sixteenth pole, and went on to cover six furlongs on a track rated fast in 1:08.63.
"He broke a little slow, and I let him find his stride," said Joel Rosario, who rode Smiling Tiger. "When I asked him to go he gave me a big kick."
Smiling Tiger earned $120,000 for the win, which was his seventh from 14 starts. He has now earned $995,864. Smiling Tiger is a 4-year-old by Hold That Tiger. A multiple Grade 1 winner, he captured both the Bing Crosby and Ancient Title last year as a 3-year-old.
The Count Fleet continued the Racing Festival of the South, when Oaklawn puts on a series of major stakes over the final week of its meet. Friday's offerings will be the Grade 1, $500,000 Apple Blossom Handicap and the $75,000 Bachelor. The meet closes Saturday with the Grade 1, $1 million Arkansas Derby.