08/01/2010 9:38PM

Smiling Tiger masters his elders in Bing Crosby

Alex Evers/ EquiSport Photos
Smiling Tiger, the lone 3-year-old in the field, captures the Bing Crosby Handicap.

DEL MAR, Calif. - The start of Sunday’s $250,000 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar left Smiling Tiger clear on the lead, and on his way to a milestone victory. The start left the heavily favored Cost of Freedom hopelessly out of contention, a loss that further muddled the California sprint division.

No horse has won two graded stakes for sprinters in California this year.

Smiling Tiger gave owners Alan Klein and Phil Lebherz and trainer Jeff Bonde their first wins in a Grade 1. Smiling Tiger, by Hold That Tiger, was the lone 3-year-old in the Bing Crosby, and was making his first start against older horses.

Smiling Tiger ($17.80) led throughout the six-furlong Bing Crosby, holding off a sustained bid by Scenic Blast to win by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:09.21. E Z’s Gentlemen, the winner of the Grade 1 Triple Bend Handicap at Hollywood Park in July, finished third, followed by El Brujo, Cost of Freedom, and Sky Cape. Cost of Freedom won the Grade 3 Los Angeles Handicap at Hollywood Park in June, and was the 3-5 favorite in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby.

Smiling Tiger, who was ridden by Victor Espinoza, broke well from the outside of the field of six, leading by a length on the backstretch and two lengths on the turn through fractions of 22.41 and 44.61 seconds. Scenic Blast trailed by two lengths at the eighth pole, but never truly threatened the winner.

Cost of Freedom broke last after jumping in the air at the start, and then bobbled when he tried to regain his footing. He was rushed into contention on the backstretch by jockey Rafael Bejarano. Cost of Freedom was as close as second to Smiling Tiger with a quarter-mile remaining, but faded to finish 8 3/4 lengths behind the winner.

Bonde said that Smiling Tiger was “one work short” in the Crosby because of an illness earlier this summer. When Smiling Tiger had a clear lead on the backstretch, Bonde became even more anxious about his colt’s chances.
“I had to really pray he wasn’t one work short,” he said. “He came with a nice run.”

Smiling Tiger has won 4 of 7 starts and $333,864, including three stakes, and has never been worse than third. Last summer at Del Mar, Smiling Tiger was third to Lookin At Lucky in the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes and Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. Lookin At Lucky won Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.