MIAMI -- Eaton's Gift, who hadn't won a race in nearly 14 months, registered a shocking upset when outlasting reigning Eclipse Award winner Benny the Bull by 1 1/2 lengths in Saturday's $350,000 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder. The Smile highlighted the 13-race Summit of Speed program along with the Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap.
Eaton's Gift gave jockey Jose Lezcano his second graded stakes win on the card. Lezcano also rode Not for Silver to victory in the Grade 2 Carry Back. A son of Johannesburg, Eaton's Gift is trained by Dale Romans and owned by the Zayat Stables, which suffered a major loss this week with the retirement of its Grade 1 winner Pioneerof the Nile.
Eaton's Gift's only previous start this season resulted in a third-place finish under optional claiming conditions over the Churchill Downs turf on June 28. Last year at 3 he won the Grade 2 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Grade 2 Smile was the first win for Eaton's Gift since the Matt Winn at Churchill Downs in May 2008.
Ikigai broke alertly and set the pace with Eaton's Gift stalking from the outset. Ikigai kicked away leaving the backstretch but Lezcano and Eaton's Gift went right back to challenge entering the stretch, gained command inside the eighth pole, and after edging clear had more than enough left to withstand the rally of defending Smile winner Benny the Bull
Benny the Bull was reserved about seven lengths off the leaders, angled out while rallying into the stretch, but lacked a sufficient closing punch. Processor's Turf came from last to finish another length back in third.
Eaton's Gift paid $31.20 after covering six furlongs in 1:11.25 over a fast but somewhat cuppy racetrack. By comparison, Game Face completed the same distance in 1:10.74 winning the Princess Rooney Handicap 30 minutes earlier. Eaton's Gift rounded out an all graded stakes pick four that returned $3,052.50 for $1.
"We knew he'd be in front of Benny, we just didn't know if he'd be good enough to hold him off," said Romans. "He had some surgery over the winter, which was why he was off so long, but he's come back bigger and stronger than ever."