Stuart S. Janney III's homebred Air Support found his best stride late in the $196,000 Bowling Green Stakes (gr. IIT) on opening day of the fall meet at Belmont Park Sept. 8, wearing down frontrunner Bombaguia by a head to earn his first victory of the year (VIDEO).
The 4-year-old son of Smart Strike completed 1 1/4 miles on a good inner turf course in 2:06.12 as the 7-5 favorite in a field of five. He gave Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey his 11th stakes score of 2012—10 of which have come on the lawn. He also may have punched his ticket to the Nov. 3 Breeders' Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita Park, McGaughey said.
"I don't know yet what's next," the trainer remarked. "There's a race at Keeneland, or the Red Smith at Aqueduct. I haven't discounted the Breeders' Cup, either. I just have to wait and see."
Air Support is now 2-for-2 at Belmont Autumn meetings, having won the 2010 Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) as a 2-year-old. He came into the Bowling Green off a third-place effort in an Aug. 6 optional claimer going 1 1/16 miles on the grass at Saratoga Race Course, and prefaced that event with back-to-back seconds in the United Nations (gr. IT) and Colonial Turf Cup Stakes. He won for the first time in six tries in 2012.
Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez gave Air Support a textbook ride in the Bowling Green, hugging the hedge in fourth and then advancing to third as Bomaguia sailed through easy opening fractions of :26.06 and :50.55. Newsdad ranged up to gain a narrow lead at the half, but Bombaguia regained his forward position through three-quarters in 1:14.90 and increased his advantage by 1 1/2 lengths in the stretch.
"I knew it would be a walking race," McGaughey said. "Johnny said (Air Support) ran a little spotty. At the three-eighths pole, he said, 'I'm just gliding along, I got this under control' and when he pulled Air Support out, he started looking around."
Velazquez angled to the outside coming off the far turn and set Air Support down for the drive, but it appeared Bombaguia would steal away after running a mile in 1:39.91 under Hall of Famer Edgar Prado. Air Support had to be reminded there was still a race to be run.
"My horse was going really easy the whole way," Velazquez said. "I pulled him out at the quarter pole, the other horse opened up two lengths on him, and he forgot he was running. Behind the horses I'm thinking 'Oh, he's going to win easy.' Pull him out, (and it's) 'Oh, I guess not.' Big surprise!"
With one furlong to go, the eventual winner had gained enough momentum to cut into the tiring Bombaguia's lead. He sealed the deal with a final jump as the pair surged together beneath the wire.
"He's competitive, definitely competitive; he just needs to put everything together on his way," Velazquez said. "I'll talk to Shug, maybe little blinkers just to make him focus on what he needs to do. He's behind horses, he's a different horse. You put him outside of the horses, he forgets that he's running."
Air Support paid $4.90, $2.90, and $2.10 while Bombaguia returned $6.20 and $3 at odds of 8-1. Brilliant Speed brought $2.60.
Bred in Kentucky, Air Support is out of the Danzig mare Gaze. The bay colt improved his record to 5-3-2 from 15 starts with earnings of $892,488. He has been a graded stakes winner in each of his three seasons on the turf, with the 2011 Transylvania (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland included in the list.