Air Support, coming from the clouds, surged past 20-1 shot Casino Host in deep stretch to capture the $600,000 Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) by a neck over the closing Banned on the turf at Colonial Downs July 16 (VIDEO).
Ridden by Alex Solis for trainer Shug McGaughey and owner/breeder Stuart Janney III, Air Support, sent off at odds of 6-1, earned his first victory since taking Keeneland's Transylvania Stakes (gr. IIIT) by a nose April 8. It was the first Virginia Derby win for his connections.
The son of Smart Strike out of the Danzig mare Gaze was coming off a distant runner-up finish to Virginia Derby rival Street Game in the one-mile Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) on a yielding Belmont Park Widener turf course June 18.
The 1 1/4-mile distance and firm going was more to his liking as Air Support led Banned from the back of the pack into contention on the outside in the stretch. He swept past 3-1 favorite Street Game, who had led to the eighth pole, as well as Casino Host, and dug in impressively in the final strides as Banned delivered a bold challenge with Jose Lezcano aboard. Casino Host, ridden by substitute jockey Malcolm Franklin, finished third in the field of 12 sophomores, one length behind the winner. The final time was a sharp 2:00.80.
Street Game vied with outsider Thirtyfirststreet for the lead and led that one narrowly through quarter-mile splits of :23.87, :48.04, and 1:12.73. Street Game edged away in the stretch before Casino Host rallied into contention to grab the advantage past mid-stretch. But Air Support, following Casino Host around the final turn and getting first run on Banned, charged home best from the center of the course to take command in the final sixteenth of a mile.
Air Support, under left-handed pressure to hit the front, hung in there gamely under steady handling to reach the wire just before second choice Banned. The runner-up, ridden confidently by Lezcano, was coming off impressive back-to-back victories at Churchill Downs in the American Turf (gr. IIT) and Jefferson Cup (gr. IIIT) stakes.
The winner earned $334,800 for his fourth win in nine career starts, boosting his earnings to $563,978.
Sharing top weight assignment of 123 pounds with the runner-up, Air Support paid $15.80, $6.80, $4.80 as the fifth choice. Banned returned $4.80 and $3.80, and completed a $60 exacta. Casino Host, who was coming off a fifth-place finish in the Hill Prince for trainer Chad Brown, was $11.20 to show.
Newsdad rallied from last to get fourth, followed by Street Game, King Congie, Crimson China, Callingahardten, Benergy, Thirtyfirststreet, The Waco Kid, and Watch Me Go.