08/05/2009 11:00PM

Best Pal could offer test for Smiling Tiger

Benoit & Associates
Unusual Suspect earned a berth in the BC Marathon with his win in Wednesday's Cougar II Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - For what it's worth, Smiling Tiger has won both his starts in Northern California by a combined 14 lengths, facing little competition.

Smiling Tiger will be tested in Sunday's $150,000 Best Pal Stakes at Del Mar, or maybe he'll just crush his rivals again and leave trainer Jeff Bonde wondering how much ability the colt possesses.

Smiling Tiger won a half-mile maiden race by six lengths May 1 and the Lost in the Fog Stakes over five furlongs by eight lengths on June 13. Both races were over the Tapeta at Golden Gate Fields.

"He had a lot of run at the end," Bonde said. "The horse has a lot of natural speed. He can separate himself from the field."

Smiling Tiger led in his wins, but broke slowly in the Lost in the Fog before quickly recovering. There was no suspense after the first quarter-mile; he led by three lengths on the turn and by four lengths with a furlong remaining.

Smiling Tiger is an intriguing starter in the Best Pal, run over 6 1/2 furlongs.

The field is indicative of the early season maiden races and stakes for 2-year-olds in Southern California, badly lacking depth.

Classical Slew, who was beaten by the filly Necessary Evil in the Grade 3 Hollywood Juvenile Championship at Hollywood Park on July 12, is the only other stakes winner among the six entrants. Classical Slew won the Proctor Memorial Stakes at Hollywood Park on June 4.

Scratches could help Zenyatta

Zenyatta, the undefeated champion older female of 2008, did not scare away many rivals for Sunday's $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes. At least not from the overnight.

There were 11 nominations for the Grade 1 Hirsch, and 10 were entered. The only nominee not entered was Dawn Before Dawn, who will run in the Adoration Stakes on Sept. 7.

How many of those nine rivals actually face Zenyatta is another matter. Several trainers said they would enter, but admitted they were looking at alternative races, such as the $350,000 John Mabee Stakes, a Grade 1 over 1 1/8 miles on turf Aug. 16.

Scratches could help Zenyatta's quest for a 12th career win. Zenyatta has drawn the outside post, and any withdrawals will allow her to start closer to the inside rail.

Thursday, trainer Vladimir Cerin said he was skipping the race with Briecat, who was second to Zenyatta in the Vanity Handicap at Hollywood Park on June 27. Cerin feared that Briecat had missed too much training because of a brief illness, and that the Mabee seemed more attractive.

Unusual Suspect punches BC ticket

Unusual Suspect earned an automatic berth to the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon at Santa Anita on Nov. 6 with his upset win in Wednesday's $150,000 Cougar II Handicap at Del Mar.

But trainer and co-owner Barry Abrams has lucrative goals in advance of the BC Marathon. Abrams would like to start Unusual Suspect in the $250,000 Del Mar Handicap over 1 3/8 miles on turf here Aug. 30 and the $200,000 California Cup Classic on the main track at Santa Anita on Oct. 3.

"That's a long way away, but we'll see what happens," Abrams said of the Breeders' Cup.

Unusual Suspect was added to the Cougar II Handicap field to take a chance, Abrams said.

"I thought the long-distance races were weak in California," Abrams said. "He responded."

Unusual Suspect ($51) was timed in 2:31.22 in the Cougar II, his first victory since the Silveyville Stakes at Golden Gate Fields last December. Ridden by Alonso Quinonez, Unusual Suspect raced in eighth place in the 10-runner Cougar II field for the first mile when he began to move closer to the leader, Ghetto.

With a rail trip on the turn and into the stretch, Unusual Suspect wore down Richard's Kid to win by a head. Richard's Kid finished 1 1/2 lengths in front of Church Service, the 2-1 favorite.

Unusual Suspect, 5, has won 8 of 38 starts and $729,100. Owned by Abrams, his wife, Dyan, and brother David, Unusual Suspect has had a diverse career. He won the Grade 3 Hollywood Turf Express over six furlongs in 2007.

Unusual Suspect is by the California-based stallion Unusual Heat, who sired three winners at Del Mar on Wednesday, including Bling Star Dreams in a maiden claimer on the main track and The Usual Q.T. in a maiden special weight on turf.

Talkin to Mom Roo's issues solved

The puzzle of why Talkin to Mom Roo followed good races with poor performances has been solved around the Ted H. West stable. It turns out Talkin to Mom Roo was prone to an occasional belly ache.

"He had some problems with his stomach and his blood count, and I think we've got him figured out," West said earlier this week.

The test will come in Saturday's Grade 1 Bing Crosby, Talkin to Mom Roo's first start at that level. He justified a spot in the field with a comprehensive win in a six-furlong allowance race at Hollywood Park on July 12.

Last fall, Talkin to Mom Roo, who races for Jeffrey Sengara, would follow a strong race with a bad loss. A seventh-place finish in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Handicap in January and a fourth in the Joe Hernandez Stakes in March led to a diagnosis of stomach ulcers.

"He ran the big efforts, but he was bouncing because the big efforts aggravated him," West said.

The Crosby will be a tough test. Talkin to Mom Roo must beat the 3-year-old sprint star Zensational.

"I think my horse loves this track," West said.

Gryder switches agents

Jockey Aaron Gryder has switched agents.

Gryder, 39, has replaced Craig O'Bryan, with Tommy Ball, both agents said Thursday. Ball will continue to represent Paul Atkinson.

Through Wednesday, Gryder had 1 win from 26 mounts at the Del Mar meeting. He won the richest race of his career earlier this year aboard Well Armed in the $6 million Dubai World Cup.