02/19/2011 8:54PM

Smiling Tiger stumbles at start, rallies to take San Carlos

Benoit & Associates
Smiling Tiger comes from far off the pace under Joel Rosario to just get up at the wire of the San Carlos.

ARCADIA, Calif.- Smiling Tiger is more than a speed-crazy sprinter.

After winning two Grade 1 stakes last year racing near the lead, Smiling Tiger did the opposite in the $150,00 San Carlos Handicap at Santa Anita. He overcame a stumble shortly after the start to win the seven-furlong race by a nose over Captain Cherokee, closing from well off the pace. Smiling Tiger ($4.80) ran seven furlongs in 1:20.30.

The win gave jockey Joel Rosario his third victory of the day, and a sweep of the day’s two stakes. He won the Grade 2 San Luis Obispo Stakes on Champ Pegasus earlier in the day, and leads the riders at Santa Anita this winter with 11 stakes wins.

A stakes double seemed impossible for Rosario after the start. Rosario was instructed by trainer Jeff Bonde to send Smiling Tiger to the lead, a strategy that was moot after the tough start.

“After that, I didn’t want to take him to the lead,” Rosario said.

 Smiling Tiger was fifth in the field of six for the first quarter-mile, and raced on the rail entering the turn. Rosario guided Smiling Tiger four-wide in early stretch and was fourth with a furlong remaining, trailing Captain Cherokee by 1 3/4 lengths. Through the final furlong, Smiling Tiger made ground on the leader to reach the front just before the wire.

 “I saved some ground for a little bit, and he showed how he can come from off the pace,” said Rosario, who rode Smiling Tiger for the first time.

Captain Cherokee, a 7-1 shot, held second, finishing three-quarters of a length in front of Mythical Power, who was three-quarters of a length in front of fourth-place finisher Ventana, who set an early pace of 23 and 45.34 seconds.

Ventana was in tight between Captain Cherokee and Mythical Power in the last 50 yards, resulting in a seven-minute stewards’ inquiry into whether Captain Cherokee fouled the third- or fourth-place finishers. The stewards ruled the incident did not affect the order of finish.

The Grade 2 San Carlos Handicap was Smiling Tiger’s third start of the meeting, and his first win. He was second by a nose behind Twirling Candy in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds on Dec. 26, and a disappointing third in the Grade 2 Palos Verdes Stakes as the 2-5 favorite on Jan. 22.

Bonde feared another loss after the start of the San Carlos.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “Joel rode a professional race and the horse responded.

“He was composed today and last time he was washed out.”

A 4-year-old colt by Hold That Tiger, Smiling Tiger has won 6 of 13 starts and $875,864 for Philip Lebherz and Alan Klein. The San Carlos was Smiling Tiger’s first win since the Grade 1 Ancient Title Stakes at Hollywood Park last October.