Smiling Tiger began the year riding a wave of momentum when Spiced Perfection became his first Grade 1 winner a week before the calendar turned to January 2019. That led into a busy breeding season, which has now rolled into a fast start with his next class of 2-year-olds.
The latest example of that came on July 17 during the opening-day card at Del Mar when Smiling Shirlee bested a California-bred or -sired maiden special weight field on debut by 2 1/4 lengths.
It was the third juvenile winner on the year for Smiling Tiger, giving him sole possession of the lead among California stallions whose current crop of 2-year-olds were conceived in the Golden State. As Smiling Tiger's third winner on the season, Smiling Shirlee joined Pas de Panique, who broke his maiden in his second start at Santa Anita, and Jaded Tiger, who won on debut at Emerald Downs.
Smiling Shirlee ran in the five-furlong race for owners Phil Lebherz, Alan Klein, and Rusty Brown, and she was trained by Jeff Bonde.
“We knew she could run in her workouts, but never really know how they're going to do until they get out there for their first race,” Lebherz said. “She broke really well. She's really a calm horse – she didn't get excited before the race, her coat looked great, no sweat or anything. She just came out and did her business. The jockey rode a great race and let her be calm, and then he let her have a little tap, and she just took off and put everyone away. It was a mature race for a horse's first race.”
It was a highly personal win for a variety of reasons, the foremost of them being that the filly is named after Klein's mother, who is in her late 80s and watched the race from home.
Beyond that, Lebherz and Klein own both Smiling Tiger, who resides at Harris Farms in Coalinga, Calif., and the filly's dam, Whobetterthanus. The daughter of Grand Slam won on debut for Lebherz at Oaklawn Park, and has produced three winners. Bloodstock agent Mersad Metanovic advises the partnership on its matings and purchases.
The winner's share of the purse for Smiling Shirlee's debut score was $36,600, but stacking on all of the bonuses tied to owning the mother and father, and foaling her in California, meant what Lebherz took home was significantly more.
“In total, I think we got about $62,000,” he said. “That's a pretty good day. It's almost like a stakes win.”
Smiling Tiger raced and won into his 5-year-old season, but getting off to a fast start is certainly on-brand for the 12-year-old son of Hold That Tiger. He raced four times as a juvenile, winning his first two starts at Golden Gate Fields including the Lost in the Fog Stakes. Then, he ventured south to Del Mar, where he ran third in both the G2 Best Pal Stakes and G1 Del Mar Futurity. In later seasons, he would become a three-time Grade 1 winner.
In addition to leading California's stallion ranks by 2-year-old winners, Smiling Tiger is also the only sire in the state with a Grade 1 winner on the year, earned when Spiced Perfection took the G1 Madison Stakes in April at Keeneland.
Spiced Perfection became Smiling Tiger's first Grade 1 winner four months earlier when she took the G1 La Brea Stakes on opening day at Santa Anita Park. Breaking down that barrier is a big moment for any stallion, but Lebherz said that having it happen when it did proved to be especially beneficial at a crucial point in Smiling Tiger's stud career.
“People get excited about other horses, and that fourth year is hard to fill up, because you've only had one running crop,” he said. “The breeding fee was $6,500, so I put in the California Thoroughbred magazine that anybody who signs up and puts a deposit down before Jan. 1 would only have to pay $5,000. On Dec. 26, Spiced Perfection wins, and between then and Jan. 1, we got 75 mares. I just talked to Harris Farms and we had 122 contracts to him. It wouldn't surprise me if we had 80 or 90 babies next year.”
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