Thursday, February 05, 2009

Smooth Air Returns in Tallahassee Saturday at Gulfstream

The connections of Mount Joy Stable’s 4-year-old homebred colt Smooth Air are hopeful the two-time Grade 2 winner will be a major player in the handicap division this season. A test comes Saturday when he makes his 2009 debut in the $75,000 Tallahassee Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Jockey Paco Lopez will be aboard Smooth Air for the first time in the one-mile turf race for trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. It will be his first start since a respectable seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, beaten only 5 ¼ lengths for it all by Raven’s Pass.

Smooth Air emerged on the national scene here early last year winning the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and finishing second to Big Brown in the Florida Derby (G1). The son of Smooth Jazz went on to win the Ohio Derby (G2) at Thistledown, finish third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) after a three-month layoff, and win the Needles Stakes at Calder in late September in his only career try on turf.

Smooth Air faces 12 rival Florida-breds in Saturday race with Dennis Punches’ 6-year-old gelding Jet Propulsion and James Scatuorchio and Mark Hasserberg’s 7-year-old Ruff and Ready among the leading contenders with jockeys Elvis Trujillo and Eibar Coa to ride, respectively.

Jet Propulsion will have to overcome the far outside 13 post, but may have enough speed to get position in the run to the first turn. Trained by Dan Hurtak, the son of Double Honor has won his last two starts going wire-to-wire in tough allowance races at Calder and over the Gulfstream course. He scored his biggest victory in the 2007 Miami Mile (G3) at Calder.

Ruff and Ready won two races over the course last year, including a Florida-bred stakes, and finished fifth behind Jet Propulsion’s loose-on-the-lead victory in the allowance on Jan. 21. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Ruff n Ready was making his first start since a close-up fourth in the Oceanport Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3.

An intriguing prospect in the field is Glenn Bromagen’s 4-year-old Wicked Style, winner of his first three career starts as a 2-year-old in 2007, including the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland before finishing 10th of 11 behind War Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) run on a ‘sloppy’ track at Monmouth Park.

Jockey Rene Douglas rides Wicked Style for trainer Rusty Arnold as he makes his first start since finishing sixth in an allowance race at Arlington Park on July 13. The son of Macho Uno tried turf at Churchill Downs in his only two previous starts last year, finishing fifth in an allowance and the Jefferson Cup (G3).

Completing the field for the Tallahassee are Dennis Manning’s Roman Tiger, Stonewall Farm Stallions’ Frisco Star, Silverton Hill Farm’s St. Joe, Kinsman Stable’s Vanquisher, Vincent Scuderi’s Formal King, Vicino Racing Stable’s Dynhocracy, Isaac Muhtar’s Fearless Eagle, Our Sugar Bear Stable’s Big Al, Martin Cherry’s Pickapocket.

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