07/30/2010 3:39PM

Cost of Freedom looks sharp for Bing Crosby

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Benoit & Associates
Cost of Freedom is the horse to beat in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar on Sunday.

DEL MAR, Calif. – The future is always now for Cost of Freedom, the top sprinter in California and the horse to beat in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes on Sunday at Del Mar.

When he is sharp, like he is now, few can beat Cost of Freedom. As for tomorrow, don’t ask.

“Long-term planning isn’t really for him,” trainer John Sadler said. “If he’s going good, you space his races and hope you are around for the big one.”

That would be the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 6 at Churchill Downs, which is the objective for many in the Crosby. The field for the six-furlong race includes Grade 1 winner E Z’s Gentleman and El Brujo, both trained by Bob Baffert; sharp 3-year-old Smiling Tiger; and outsiders My Summer Slew, Scenic Blast, and Sky Cape.

They all must beat Cost of Freedom, a Grade 1 winner who holds the Polytrack record for six furlongs (1:08.29) and enters the Crosby on a two-race win streak, including the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap two months ago at Hollywood Park.

At age 7, Cost of Freedom has started only 15 times, winning eight.

“He has a history of holding up for three or four races, then going to the sidelines for a while,” Sadler said.

Claimed two years ago for $50,000 by Gary and Cecil Barber, Cost of Freedom will be ridden by Rafael Bejarano. He replaces sidelined Tyler Baze.

“You feel a little funny, because [Baze and Cost of Freedom] have been a partnership for quite a while,” Sadler said.

The gelding’s last six wins have been with Baze. Bejarano was aboard for Cost of Freedom’s five-furlong work one week ago.

A front-runner, Cost of Freedom would benefit if the track profile favoring speed continues. Through Thursday, eight of the 15 races at six furlongs were won by the pacesetter. But if Cost of Freedom gets beat, it might be due to Smiling Tiger, a pesky 3-year-old two stalls outside.

Smiling Tiger, trained by Jeff Bonde, was among the top 2-year-olds at Del Mar last summer, finishing third in the Del Mar Futurity and Best Pal Stakes. Bonde skipped a winter campaign, when Smiling Tiger had an entrapped epiglottis that required minor surgery.

Third in his comeback, Smiling Tiger improved second start back, winning the Grade 3 Harry Henson on May 22 over next-out stakes winner Concord Point. Bonde planned to ship Smiling Tiger to 3-year-old sprints in the East, but he got sick.

“He got sick on us, so we missed the races we were going to go in,” Bonde said. “Now, we’re in a position where there are not a lot of options for him in his own age bracket.”

Bonde considered shipping Smiling Tiger to Saratoga to face 3-year-olds, but said, “I wanted to run him one time out there before I start sending him around. At the end of the year, you have to run against older horses anyway, if he’s that good.”

He might be. Smiling Tiger has 3 wins and 3 thirds from 6 starts and is comfortably drawn outside.

“That’s what I was praying for, to be outside” Cost of Freedom, Bonde said.

Victor Espinoza rides Smiling Tiger. The concerns for Bonde are facing older for the first time and the two-month layoff.

Baffert, who won the 2009 Crosby with 3-year-old Zensational, entered late-developing E Z’s Gentleman and new shooter El Brujo. Both are owned by Arnold Zetcher.

E Z’s Gentleman finished second in the Los Angeles won by Cost of Freedom, then won the Grade 1 Triple Bend at seven furlongs. Baffert originally planned to wait until Aug. 28 for his next start in the Grade 1 Pat O’Brien at seven furlongs.

“I wasn’t going to run E Z’s Gentleman, but he worked well and he’s doing well, so we might as well take a shot,” Baffert said.

Baffert’s second starter might be worth gambling on. El Brujo was purchased privately after a sixth-place finish May 15 in a turf race at Woodbine. Baffert said he shipped to Belmont for the spring meet but did not train well there.

“I brought him home and freshened him up,” Baffert said. “He runs well on synthetic.”

El Brujo has won 6 of 15 on synthetic, including a Grade 3 at Keeneland. His recent workouts are sharp, and if the pace melts, El Brujo could post an upset under Joel Rosario.