07/29/2011 12:30PM

Del Mar: Very sharp Smiling Tiger shortens slightly for Bing Crosby

Benoit & Associates
Smiling Tiger, winning the seven-furlong Triple Bend Handicap last time out, returns to six furlongs for the Bing Crosby.

DEL MAR, Calif. – Perception of the crack sprinter Smiling Tiger seems to evolve.

Trainer Jeff Bonde thought at one time that “shorter is better” for Smiling Tiger. Over time, the opinion has shifted.

“As he’s gotten older, he’s learned to relax,” Bonde said. “He’s learned to extend his distance.”

Smiling Tiger’s ability to adapt at either key distance has made him the leading sprinter in California in the last year.

Last summer, Smiling Tiger won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes over six furlongs at Del Mar, his first win at that level. Earlier this month, Smiling Tiger won the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap over seven furlongs at Hollywood Park.

For a defense of his title in Sunday’s $250,000 Bing Crosby Stakes, Smiling Tiger cuts back in distance to six furlongs, and will be doing so as Bonde and owners Alan Klein and Philip Lebherz look forward to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs in November.

Smiling Tiger will be favored in the Bing Crosby at a time when Bonde says he is in peak form after 8 wins in 16 starts and earnings of $1,149,353.

“I thought his last race was his best race,” Bonde said. “It was effortless.”

Smiling Tiger will need an equally impressive performance to win the Bing Crosby. The field of seven includes the graded stakes winner Euroears, unraced since a second in the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March; Amazombie, who was third in the Triple Bend and Kinsale King, who won the 2010 Golden Shaheen.

Smiling Tiger drew the rail. With Kinsale King and Euroears likely to fight for the lead, Smiling Tiger may stalk the pace. He has shown the ability to lead throughout and win from off the pace in the past. Bonde made no commitments to Smiling Tiger’s style of racing on Friday morning, suggesting that jockey Joel Rosario will make the decision.

“The break tells everything,” Bonde said. “It will come down to rider discretion.”

Bonde says that Smiling Tiger’s recent training has been encouraging.

“He doesn’t need a lot,” he said. “He’s finished well at the end of his works, slow early and rolling home.”

Euroears earned a month break after the Golden Shaheen, and deserved one, trainer Bob Baffert said. “He was pretty jarred up for about a month,” Baffert said.

Owned by Jim and Marilyn Helzer, Euroears resumed workouts in mid-June, and has impressed Baffert with his efforts on Del Mar’s Polytrack surface, including six furlongs in 1:11.40 on July 18. Baffert considered sending Euroears to Saratoga for a stakes race this summer, but reversed that decision after watching the workouts.

“He’s training really well and it seems like he likes this track in the mornings,” Baffert said. “He runs well fresh. We’ll put him on the lead and go as far as he can.”

Kinsale King has not won a stakes since the 2010 Golden Shaheen. He won an allowance race at Golden Gate Fields in February and was sent to Dubai for the 2011 Golden Shaheen, only to miss the race because of inflammation in a leg, trainer Carl O’Callaghan said at the time.

Less than two weeks ago, O’Callaghan questioned whether Kinsale King would start in the Bing Crosby. He firmed his plans after watching the 6-year-old Kinsale King train in the last week.

“He just kind of blossomed in the last week and a half,” O’Callaghan said. “I’m going to take a shot.

“He’ll be close, breathing down their necks. It’s a big step to run coming off a layoff.”