Mount Joy Stable’s Florida homebred Smooth Air finished a very respectable seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita on Oct. 25, beaten only 5 ¼ lengths for it all by Raven’s Pass, and shortly thereafter trainer Bennie Stutts, Jr. and owner-breeder Brian Burns set out to plan ahead for the 2009 season.
“We gave him a month off at the farm (in Ocala) in November,” said Stutts Wednesday morning after entering the 4-year-old son of Smooth Jazz in Saturday’s $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (G2), an historic test shortened from the 1 3/16 miles distance of the last four years to a mile for this season.
“He’s a different horse this year than last when he was kind of laid back. He’s become very aggressive in his training and wants to do more. The goal for him is to win a Grade 1 at some point this season to enhance his value as a stallion prospect. He’s already accomplished quite a lot, but with his pedigree, a Grade 1 win would make all the difference.”
Smooth Air comes into Saturday’s race with a 13-5-3-3 record for earnings of $752,200. In two starts here last year, he won the Hutcheson Stakes (G2) and finished second to Big Brown in the Florida Derby (G1).
In his only out-of-the-money performance prior to the Breeders’ Cup, Smooth Air had a rough trip in the Kentucky Derby (G1) to finish 11th behind Big Brown. After an impressive victory in the Ohio Derby (G1) at Thistledown in late May, he was sidelined for three months with minor foot problems before coming back to finish third in the Pennsylvania Derby (G2) at Philadelphia Park on Sept. 1.
Formidable South Florida Team to Fair Grounds Saturday
Four of the top 10 jockeys in the Gulfstream Park standings will be out of town for stakes mounts Saturday at Fair Grounds along with eight or nine South Florida-based horses ready to contend in each of the big four Graded stakes events on Louisiana Derby Day.
Leading rider Kent Desormeaux returns to his Louisiana racing roots to team with Samotawka Stables and partners’ 3-year-old Free Country in the $600,000 Louisiana Derby (G2) and Michael and Lenora Paulson’s 3-year-old filly Our Dahlia in the $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks (G2), both trained by leading Gulfstream trainer Ken McPeek.
Julien Leparaoux and John R. Velazquez rank second and tied for fourth on the Gulfstream leader board currently and each picks up mounts including Adele Dilschneider’s Terrain and James Spence’s Flying Pegasus in the Louisiana Derby, respectively.
Edgar Prado, tied for seventh with 29 wins, is making the trip with his dance card to include Carol Nyren’s Dry Martini in the $500,000 New Orleans Handicap (G2) for trainer Barclay Tagg. Jermaine Bridgmohan also makes the trip to retain the mount on Edmund Gann’s top sprinter Ikigai in the $125,000 Duncan F. Kenner Stakes for trainer Marty Wolfson.
Other horses making the trip include IEAH Stable’s Patena (Rick Dutrow) and My Meadowview Farm’s Nowhere to Hide (Nick Zito) for the Louisiana Derby, Edmund Gann’s It’s a Bird (Marty Wolfson) for the New Orleans Handicap and Herman Heinlein’s Soldier’s Dancer (Dave Vivian) and Turtle Bird Stable’s Sir Whimsey (Michelle Nihei) for the $600,000 Mervin Muniz Jr. Memorial Handicap (G2).