Stuart Janney III’s homebred Air Support came from near the back of the field and ran down Great Mills in the final jump to win the $100,000 Transylvania (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by a nose April 8 on opening day at Keeneland.
Making his season debut and sent off at 10-1 in a field of 10 3-year-olds going 1 1/16 miles on the turf course, Air Support dropped way off a quick pace, advanced three-wide on the final turn, and came flying down the center of the course under Rajiv Maragh. He needed the entire stretch to catch Millennium Farms’ Great Mills, who was entering off a three-race win streak.
Adirondack Summer also made a big late move between horses from off the pace and was only a neck back in third. Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT) winner Pluck, sent off as the 8-5 favorite, was never a factor and finished seventh.
The final time on the firm turf was 1:41.99.
With Julien Leparoux aboard for Steve Asmussen, Grindstone Stakes winner Great Mills vied for the early lead along with longshot Legendary King, and those two built a big advantage while running speedy opening fractions of :22.71 and :46.35. Great Mills continued to show the way and led by a length at the eighth-pole. He was shortening stride by mid-stretch but being kept to task by Leparoux. Air Support had just enough room to run him down at the wire.
"My horse settled pretty well, and it seemed like they were going pretty fast up front," Maragh said. "I was thinking that I was going to be able to catch (Great Mills) when he started slowing down late, and that's what happened."
Air Support had been off since finishing ninth in the BC Juvenile Turf last November, one start after scoring the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) on Belmont Park's yielding turf. Overall, he is now 3-0-0 from six starts with earnings of $187,100.
Air Support is out of the Danzig mare Gaze.
"He trained well this winter in Florida and I thought, 'Well, I'll take a look'," said winning trainer Shug McGaughey. "His breeze down there last Sunday before he left was very good so we decided to take a chance.
"We changed tactics on him a little bit. After (the Breeders' Cup), I thought we laid a little close and so did Rajiv, so we elected to take him back today."
On the Keeneland undercard, Magdalena Racing’s Casper's Touch drew away for a commanding three-length victory in a $54,000 allowance race (VIDEO), rebounding from his seventh-place finish in the Feb. 26 Fountain of Youth (gr. II).
The 3-year-old son of Touch Gold covered about seven furlongs on the Beard Course in 1:26.70 for his second win six starts. Ken McPeek trains Casper’s Touch, who was bred in Kentucky by Daniel J. Burke.
A crowd of 22,747 was announced on a warm but mostly overcast opening day in Lexington.