01/07/2011 8:34AM

2010 Eclipse Awards: Smiling Tiger

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Benoit & Associates

Regardless of who wins the Eclipse Award as the top sprinter in 2010, only one horse has bragging rights as the only member of the division to win two Grade 1 races during the course of the season. That honor belonged to Smiling Tiger, a 3-year-old son of Hold That Tiger owned by Alan Klein and Phil Lebherz and trained by Jeff Bonde.

Smiling Tiger was the top sprinter based on the West Coast in 2010. Following a brief and modestly successful 2-year-old campaign in which he won 2 of 4 starts and banked just over $116,000, Smiling Tiger emerged as one of the nation’s premier sprinters at 3, having the bulk of his success over the synthetic surfaces at Hollywood Park and Del Mar while also showing the ability to handle turf and conventional dirt.

Smiling Tiger began the year making his turf debut at Hollywood Park, finishing third in the six-furlong Harry Henson Stakes. He then switched back to the synthetic surface at Hollywood and successfully stretched his abundant speed out seven furlongs to capture the Grade 3 Laz Barrera Memorial.

“We took a chance running him on turf the first time back because we wanted to get a race into him,” Bonde said after the Barrera. “He was pretty wild in the paddock before that race, but he was more professional today and I was confident he was going to run a good race.”

Smiling Tiger’s first chance against Grade 1 company had to wait 10 weeks, until action on the Southern California circuit switched to Del Mar. Dismissed at nearly 8-1, Smiling Tiger made every pole a winning one capturing the six-furlong Bing Crosby by 1 1/2 lengths over Scenic Blast. The victory was also a milestone for Bonde, giving him the first Grade 1 win of his training career.

“This is a special horse,” Bonde said of Smiling Tiger after the Bing Crosby, while confirming he now had his sights set on the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Smiling Tiger made two more starts prior to heading to Churchill Downs for the Sprint, finishing third as the 6-5 favorite in the Pat O’Brien before posting his second Grade 1 win of the year in the Ancient Title.

“He was kind of taken out of his game in the Pat O’Brien, and seven furlongs was a distance that’s tough for him,” said Bonde after the Ancient Title. “But at three-quarters he’s a tough horse.”

Smiling Tiger headed to Churchill Downs as the West Coast’s top hope in the Breeders’ Cup, but with a big question mark on his head since he’d never raced over conventional dirt. But a very sharp albeit eventful work during Breeders’ Cup week gave every indication Smiling Tiger would have little trouble handling the surface switch.

Unfortunately, Smiling Tiger lost his best chance when stumbling leaving the starting gate for the Sprint. He quickly recovered to race within easy striking distance of pacesetter Big Drama, but lacked the necessary closing response to threaten the winner, ultimately finishing third -- but less than two lengths from victory.

Smiling Tiger concluded his 3-year-old campaign with three wins in six starts and earnings of just over $601,000. He has the honor of not only being the only two-time Grade 1 winner in the division, but one of the three finalists for the Eclipse Award as the top sprinter in 2010.

PAST PERFORMANCES: Smiling Tiger's 2010 season PPs (PDF)

KEY RACE REPLAY: Ancient Title at Oak Tree at Hollywood Park >>