12/02/2012 8:46PM

Hollywood Park: Smiling Tiger snaps losing streak in Vernon Underwood

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Benoit & Associates
Smiling Tiger, with Rafael Bejarano aboard, wins his first race since July 2011 in the Grade 3 Vernon Underwood.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. - Smiling Tiger ended a six-race losing streak over the last 17 months with a convincing win in Sunday’s $100,000 Vernon Underwood Stakes at Betfair Hollywood Park.

The Grade 3 Underwood was Smiling Tiger’s eighth career stakes win, and his second start after undergoing a summertime operation to improve his breathing. In the first start of his return from that minor procedure, Smiling Tiger finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 3.

“Smiling Tiger is back,” co-owner Philip Lebherz said in the winner’s circle on Sunday.

In the Underwood, Smiling Tiger had an ideal trip under jockey Rafael Bejarano. Sent off as the 8-5 favorite, Smiling Tiger was fourth on the backstretch, stalking a pace of 22.84 and 46.34 seconds set by Private Zone.

Bejarano moved Smiling Tiger to the outside in early stretch, and wore down the leaders, taking over in the final furlong.

Smiling Tiger ($5.40) won by a length over Private Zone, finishing six furlongs in 1:11.24. The synthetic main track at Hollywood Park produced slow times over the weekend following three days of intermittent rain.

Jeff Bonde, who trains Smiling Tiger, was delighted to see a speed duel develop.

“Everything worked out well,” he said. “A couple of guys wanted to play early.”

Private Zone, the lone 3-year-old in the field of six, held second, finishing a half-length in front of Capital Account, who had the best finish of trainer Bob Baffert’s three runners. Comma to the Top finished fourth, followed by other two Baffert-trained runners – Smash and Bank the Eight.

Baffert scratched Fast Bullet in favor of an allowance race on Thursday.

Smiling Tiger races for Lebherz and Alan Klein. A 5-year-old horse, Smiling Tiger had not won before Sunday since the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap here in July 2011. By Hold That Tiger, Smiling Tiger has won 9 of 23 starts and $1,480,704.

Bonde and Lebherz said a long-term goal is the Golden Shaheen Sprint in Dubai in late March.