07/10/2009 11:00PM

Benny the Bull primed for peak effort

Jim Lisa
An ankle injury sidelined Benny the Bull for almost 11 months after last year's Smile and nearly ended his career.

MIAMI - Reigning Eclipse Award champion Benny the Bull will be the star of the show when he returns to Calder on Saturday to defend his title in the $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap.

The Grade 2 Smile will share top billing on Saturday's Summit of Speed program with the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap, which lost some of its luster when it was announced earlier this week that female sprint champion Indian Blessing would be scratched. The Smile and Princess Rooney, both designated as Win and You're In races for the Breeders' Cup, will be joined on the 13-race card by the Grade 2 Carry Back and Grade 3 Azalea stakes.

Benny the Bull rallied to a two-length victory over How's Your Halo in the 2008 Smile before being sidelined nearly 11 months by an ankle injury that nearly ended his career. Benny the Bull finally returned to action five weeks ago to finish second behind Fabulous Strike in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont Park. Trainer Rick Dutrow said he believes that race should set up Benny the Bull perfectly for the Smile.

"I think his last race was great coming off the layoff and should really help him," Dutrow said. "Right now Benny's on top of his game and I'm confident he's going to run another big race on Saturday. I love the way he is right now. I looked this race over, and if he plays his game he's by far the best horse in the field and they've got to beat him."

Benny the Bull, who blew out three furlongs in 35.68 seconds at Calder on Thursday morning, will shoulder the same 124-pound impost he carried to victory in this race a year ago with regular rider Edgar Prado aboard.

How's Your Halo will take another shot at Benny the Bull on Saturday. He is one of four locally based horses entered for the Smile, along with Ikigai, Yesbyjimminy, and Processor's Turf. Kentucky invader Eaton's Gift completes the lineup.

How's Your Halo has had some big moments since his second-place finish in the 2008 Smile, topped by his half-length upset of Ikigai in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Richter Scale in February.

Ikigai has lost three straight races since dominating Gulfstream's Grade 3 Mr. Prospector in his 2009 debut, as has Yesbyjimminy, the local sprint kingpin during the second half of last year who remains winless since capturing the Grade 3 Kenny Noe Jr. Handicap in his 2008 finale.

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