When trainer Paul Douglas Fout saw Wheels Up At Noon in action at Delaware Park, he was immediately struck by the horse’s agility and balance. Naturally, being primarily a trainer of steeplechasers, Fout’s first thought was that the son of Outflanker would make a wonderful hurdler.

That’s exactly what Fout intended to do with the dark bay colt after he purchased him late last year for Eldon Farm, and gelded him. But things didn’t quite work out as Fout intended.

In his first start this year at age 4, Wheels Up At Noon ran the best race of his life to win a nine-furlong overnight stakes on the turf at Delaware Park in June, and then made it two straight with a 2 ½-length score over Silver Tree in the Caesar Rodney Stakes on July 13. A short-priced fifth in the Grade 3 Red Bank Handicap, Wheels Up At Noon then missed gaining his first graded stakes win when he finished second by a neck in the Grade 3 Cliffhanger at the Meadowlands on October 10.

“He’s really been a pleasant surprise,” said Fout, who this past summer at Saratoga Race Course took two top steeplechase events in the New York Turf Writers’ Cup with Dark Equation and the A.P. Smithwick with High Action. “We’ve really been lucky with him. I was going to look at him to be a steeplechase horse, but he’s improved on the turf. He’s only 15-3 hands, but he covers ground like he’s 16-2.”

On Saturday, Wheels Up At Noon will try to break through in a graded stakes once more when he takes on eight others in the Grade 2, $150,000 Red Smith at Aqueduct Racetrack. At one mile and three furlongs, the Red Smith is the final graded stakes on the turf in New York this year for colts and geldings.

With Carlos Marquez Jr. named, Wheels Up At Noon will break from post No. 9 in the Red Smith under 116 pounds.

The elder statesman in the field is Merriefield Farm’s Always First (GB), a seven-year-old gelded son of Barathea who won the Grade 3, 1½-mile Sycamore Stakes at Keeneland on October 18 in only his second start of the year, rallying from 20 lengths back to win by three-quarters of a length.

On September 13, in his first start after nearly a year-long layoff, Always First was eighth in the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup behind Rumor Has It.

“He ran horribly at Kentucky Downs over very hard ground,” said trainer Tom Voss of Always First, who has four victories, two seconds and one third in 10 starts since January, 2006. “The only times he’s not run well have been over hard ground.

“But he is doing very well,” added Voss, who will give Eddie Castro a leg up on Saturday. “He’s basically a fresh horse – he ran about a quarter-mile in his last race, and not at all in the race before, so he’s just bucking and squealing.”

Likely to attract support is the late-starting Summer Patriot, who was third behind Grand Couturier and Interpatation, another Red Smith entrant, in the Grade 1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational over a yielding course at Belmont Park in September 27. Trained by Barclay Tagg for Hare Forest Farm, the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song broke his maiden at fourth asking this year, then put together back-to-back victories at Saratoga Race Course in an allowance and the restricted John’s Call. Javier Castellano will ride from post No. 4.

High weight at 119 pounds in the Red Smith is Patricia Generazio’s Presious Passion, winner of the Grade 1 United Nations Handicap in July over a yielding turf course at Monmouth. The five-year-old gelding, fifth in the Red Smith last year, drew post No. 8 under Alan Garcia.

Rounding out the field is Hard Top (IRE), third in his American debut for Todd Pletcher in the Strawberry Burrah at Belmont Park on October 2; Banrock, whose three-race win streak was snapped when he finished fourth in the Mohawk on October 18; the German-bred Lauro, winner of the Grade 2 Sky Classic at Woodbine in his second North American start on October 25; Strike a Deal, second in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker on October 25, and Interpatation, seeking his first victory of 2008.