Trainer Bob Baffert continued his domination of the young 2011 Santa Anita meet when Euroears scored an easy front-running 2 1/4-length upset in the Grade 2, $150,000 Palos Verdes Stakes Jan. 22, dealing odds-on favorite Smiling Tiger a third consecutive defeat.
Making his first start for Baffert, James and Marilyn Helzer's Euroears was ridden to victory by Mike Smith at 9-1 odds while clocking an outstanding time of 1:07.23 for the six furlongs on a fast track. Euroears, a 7-year-old son of Langfuhr, registered his first graded victory and gave Baffert his 19th win of the meet from 43 starters.
Captain Cherokee, who chased Euroears in second throughout, was the runner-up with Joe Talamo aboard. Smiling Tiger acted up in the gate, failed to break alertly from the rail post for Russell Baze, and took plenty of dirt from the hustling Euroears. The two-time grade I winner, sent off as the 2-5 favorite, gave up the fight in the lane while holding onto third narrowly over Baffert's more fancied runner Ventana.
Euroears, formerly in the Bret Calhoun barn, had not raced since fading badly in the Firecracker Handicap on the Churchill Downs turf July 4, finishing 13th.
But after a long rest and some solid works at Hollywood Park and Fairplex, he had been turning it up a notch in the mornings once Baffert brought him to the speedy Santa Anita strip. Euroears worked six furlongs in a bullet 1:09 3/5 from the gate Jan. 12 and followed that with a :46 3/5 clocking for a half-mile Jan. 18.
"He was training just fantastically," the Hall of Fame conditioner said of Euroears. "Mike did a great job. I told him just to get him on the lead. This horse was always meant to be a good horse, but he's just had a few problems."
Euroears outfought Captain Cherokee for the early lead and burned through quarter-mile fractions of :21.56 and :43.47 while opening up by a couple of lengths over his pace rival at the quarter pole.
Smiling Tiger, unable to escape his rail position with Gato Go Win to his immediate outside, was never comfortable for Baze and failed to put in his usual strong kick while dropping back approaching mid-stretch. Euroears, meanwhile, was 2 1/2 lengths clear at the furlong marker and strode out impressively for Smith under left-handed urging.
Smith said the race came together perfectly for Euroears.
"Fortunately I broke well, but I had to kind of put him there (on the lead)," Smith said. "Once I got him going he was just cruising. He's a great, great, classy horse. I knew what this horse was capable of because he has so much back class. I knew if I could get a clear lead, and at some point give him a breather, then go again, he would run well, and it worked.
"The favorite was acting up in the gate and didn't get away quite as good as he normally would have because he was kind of throwing a fit."
Captain Cherokee, sent off at 28-1, was second best by 2 1/4 lengths. The 123-pound high weight Smiling Tiger managed to edge 3-1 second pick Ventana, making his first start since the May 1 Churchill Downs Stakes (Grade 2), by a head for the show spot.
Euroears picked up his first victory since taking the Thanksgiving Stakes at Fair Grounds Nov. 26, 2009. He ended a five-race losing streak while improving his career mark to 9-1-2 in 17 starts with earnings of $491,562.
The winning chestnut, out of the Huff mare Unky and Ally, was bred in Kentucky by Gary and Bonnie Peterson.
Sent off as third choice in the field of six, Euroears carried 118 pounds and paid $20, $9.80 and $4.20. Captain Cherokee, making his Southern California debut for trainer Steve Asmussen, returned $16.40 and $6.40 and completed a healthy $230.40 exacta. Smiling Tiger, winless since taking Oak Tree's Ancient Title Stakes (Grade 1) Oct. 9, was $2.10 to show.
Ventana was followed by Hunch and Gato Go Win. Don Tito scratched.