Stuart Janney III’s homebred Air Support wore down favored Soldat in deep stretch to win the $150,000 Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) on Belmont Park’s yielding turf course Oct. 3. It was the first stakes victory for the 2-year-old son of Smart Strike.
Last out in the Sept. 3 With Anticipation Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Saratoga, Air Support finished fourth, beaten seven lengths by Soldat. With Rajiv Maragh back aboard for the Pilgrim, the bay colt covered 1 1/16 miles in 1:47.87. Shug McGaughey trains the winner.
Air Support raced mid-pack in a field seven through an easy early pace set by Dual Citizen, who clicked off fractions of :25.97, :51.11, and 1:16.17. The Flying Whizzer was next, followed by Favorite Hour. Dual Citizen continued to lead as they entered the stretch, but Deciphering Dreams was making a bid along the hedge, and Air Support and Soldat were coming on the outside.
After bumping with each other at the top of the stretch, Air Support gained a short lead over Soldat approaching the sixteenth pole and gamely held his narrow advantage in the final yards. He hit the wire in front by 1 1/2 lengths, with Soldat and Alan Garcia finishing a head in front of Deciphering Dreams.
“He felt really comfortable the whole time," Maragh said. "With a little give in the ground today, he handled it perfectly. He was basically floating over the turf course. All the way I felt like I had a lot of horsepower and I was just waiting to unleash it. When I asked him he just kicked on.”
Air Support, who is out of the Danzig mare Gaze, was making his fourth start. He broke his maiden at second asking Aug. 13 on the Saratoga turf before his stakes debut in the With Anticipation. He has now earned $127,100.
“(The course in Saratoga) was like a conveyor belt and I thought he ran a good race, you know, he just couldn’t catch up (because) it was so speed-conducive," McGaughey said. "(Soldat) showed he was a nice horse; he was second today, so not taking anything away there, but I thought if I got him back to Belmont we’d catch a little bit fairer track and we obviously did.
"If he comes out of it OK, why not (go to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, gr. IIT, Nov. 6)? Unless somebody says no, we’ll see.”
The winner paid $12, $4, and $2.70. The exacta (4-8) was $22 and the trifecta (4-8-2) returned $86.
Favorite Hour finished fourth, followed by Liondrive, Dual Citizen, and The Flying Whizzer. Powhaten County and Running Tap were scratched.