08/01/2010 11:26PM

Were they good or were they lucky?


The racing surface returned to normal Sunday. Darn.

A few horseplayers were looking forward to a second straight day of rally-wide bias.

Instead, speed was good Sunday. Lone speed was dynamite.

That creates a problem interpreting two big races – a maiden race for 2-year-old fillies, and the Grade 1 Bing Crosby for older sprinters.

Avid is headed to the Grade 1 Del Mar Debutante after a solid debut in race 1. Is she good enough? It is hard to tell.

Avid popped the gate, made an easy lead, and cruised. She won geared down by two and one-quarter lengths in 1:10.82. She earned a 77 Beyer Figure.

It was a decent race, and that is all. She had no pressure on a slow (45.76 seconds) half-mile. Avid delivered under ideal conditions. You can’t knock her, can’t love her.

Same dilemma applies to Smiling Tiger, upset winner of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby.

Smiling Tiger is a 3-year-old. His trainer Jeff Bonde preferred not tackling older. Not yet.

Bonde kept thinking about his veteran gelding Mr. Doubledown, a 14-for-30 sprinter that earned $738,692.

“I got him beat as a 3-year-old against older horses,” Bonde said. That was only the third career start for Mr. Doubledown, who later won nine stakes up and down the West Coast.

As for Smiling Tiger, his summer setbacks forced Bonde to try older in the Bing Crosby. He would face front-runner Cost of Freedom, the top sprinter in California.

But when the gates opened, Cost of Freedom went straight in the air. Cost of Freedom broke last. “It cost me the race,” jockey Rafael Bejarano said.

The slow start by Cost of Freedom allowed Smiling Tiger an easy lead. He walked the opening quarter in 22.41 seconds.

Smiling Tiger hit the jets on the turn. On a surface where 23-second turn times are ordinary, Smiling Tiger smoked in 22.21 seconds, fastest turn time of the meet.

Smiling Tiger’s final time of 1:09.21 earned a 103 Beyer.

Would Smiling Tiger have run as well going head-and-head with Cost of Freedom? Who knows?

You can’t knock Smiling Tiger, can’t love him either. Is he Breeders’ Cup material?

The question will remain unanswered, for now.