ELMONT, N.Y. – Favored Air Support caught front-running Bombaguia in the final yards and got his head in front at the wire to win Saturday’s Grade 2, $200,000 Bowling Green Handicap, the opening-day feature for Belmont Park’s 37-day fall meet.

The 4-year-old Smart Strike colt, ridden for the first time by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, tucked in third along the rail as Bombaguia led the tightly grouped field of five through an opening quarter-mile in 26.06 seconds, with the half going in 50.55 and three quarters in 1:14.90. Tipped to the outside as they straightened for home, Air Support caught up with the pacesetter inside the eighth pole and prevailed only after a tough battle to the wire.

“Behind the horses, I’m thinking ‘Oh, he’s going to win easy.’ Pull him out, ‘Oh, I guess not.’ Big surprise!” said Velazquez. “He’s competitive, definitely competitive; he just needs to put everything together on his way though.”

Air Support completed the 1 ¼ miles in 2:06.12 over an inner turf course rated “good” as he won for the first time since taking the Grade 2 Virginia Derby more than a year ago.

“I’m pleased with him; it’s the first race he’s won in a while,” said Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey, who trains Air Support for Stuart S. Janney, III. “When he got up to the horse on the lead – let’s give [Bombaguia] some credit, he was on an easy lead and we had to run and catch him, he ran a great race – when we got next to him, he didn’t want to run by him when I thought we would. I’m glad he won.”

The 7-5 favorite, Air Support returned $4.90 for a $2 win bet and with the winner’s purse of $120,000 has now earned $892,488. Four of his five career victories have come in graded stakes, including the Grade 3 Pilgrim in 2010 and the Grade 3 Transylvania in 2011.

McGaughey, who this year has saddled nine graded stakes winners on the turf, said he was not sure what might be next for Air Support, but mentioned the Grade 2 Red Smith at Aqueduct Racetrack on November 3 and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on the same day as possibilities.

Bombaguia, who was making his stakes debut, was 7 ¼ lengths ahead of Brilliant Speed, who in turn was followed by Brujo de Olleros and Newsdad. Main Track Only entrant Redeemed was scratched.