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Smiling Tiger and Joel Rosario head to the winner's circle after the Count Fleet Handicap
Kicking off Arkansas Derby weekend at Oaklawn Park was the $200,000 Count Fleet Handicap (G3) on Thursday. A field of 6 older horses sprinted 6 furlongs around one turn of the historic Hot Springs oval, with Smiling Tiger sent off as the 3-5 favorite off a win in the San Carlos Handicap (G2) at Santa Anita after finishing third in the Palos Verdes (G2). In to challenge him included 5-2 second choice Chief of Affairs, winner of the Hot Springs Stakes last out, and 5-1 third choice Riley Tucker, fifth in the Duncan F. Kenner Stakes at Fair Grounds after finishing 9th in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Smiling Tiger leads down the stretch.
Jockey Clint Berry sent Chief of Affairs to the lead exiting the chute and he set fractions of 22.29 and 44.74 while being stalked by 32-1 longest shot Silver Magnus to his outside. Entering the stretch, Silver Magnus gained on the pacesetter and took a short lead at the 1/8 pole through 5/8 in 56.57, but Smiling Tiger, who was slowest out of the gate and wide the whole way, closed with a rush through the lane to easily pass the pacesetters to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths in 1:08.63. It was just a neck back from Silver Magnus to Chief of Affairs, who in turn held off late-running 19-1 Native Ruler by a nose in a 3-horse blanket photo for second.
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 3 Smiling Tiger Rosario 3.20 2.80 2.10 2 Silver Magnus Baze 12.80 4.80 5 Chief of Affairs Berry 2.40 Winning Time: 1:08.63 $2 Exacta 3-2 56.80 $1 Trifecta 3-2-5 80.00
Left: Smiling Tiger in the winner's circle. His trainer Jeff Bonde said, "Prior to the race, we were remarking how much he had improved and how composed he was. He's always been a Type A personality and keyed up, but he was probably the best he's ever been today. Very professional; and he certainly wasn't like that early in his career at all. We sent him out here and the extra time really paid off. He really enjoyed it here. This is one of the most special horses to us. He really turned it around for us. He's led us to a lot of thrills and, hopefully, a lot more thrills to come." He may start next in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1) at Belmont Park.
Right: Smiling Tiger in the paddock before the race.
Left: Smiling Tiger in the walking ring before the race.
Right: Smiling Tiger in the post parade. His jockey Joel Rosario said, "He came out from the gate a little slow, but I let him regroup. He settled nicely and, when I asked him, he gave me a great kick turning for home. He showed me in his last race that he can run, but today he showed me he can really run. He's a big horse with a great stride and that really helps him out when he runs."
Left: Second place finisher Silver Magnus returns after the race. His trainer McLean Robertson said, "Our horse ran a great race. I thought our horse kind of set it up for the winner and I wish we would've waited a little longer before we went to the front. But at 30-1 you know those jockeys get a little anxious."
Right: Third place finisher Chief of Affairs in the post parade. The 5-2 second choice set the pace under jockey Clint Berry, gave up the lead at the 3/16 pole but barely held on to third at the line. The Bret Calhoun trainee improved his record to 6 wins, 4 seconds, and 3 thirds in 16 starts, earning $268,763 for owners Wayne Sanders and Larry Hirsch.
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