Stuart Janney III’s homebred Air Support, a graded stakes winner on the Belmont turf a year ago, returns to New York as the one to beat in the $100,000 Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT) on June 18.
Air Support, a 3-year-old son of Smart Strike, won the Pilgrim Stakes (gr. IIIT) over yielding turf as a juvenile and in his 2011 debut scored in the Transylvania (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland. He was pegged as the 3-1 morning-line choice in the one-mile Hill Prince, which drew a field of nine sophomores and is the first of two graded races on a Belmont card that also features the Ogden Phipps Handicap (gr. I).
Air Support is 3-0-1 in seven starts for his career, his other victory coming in a maiden special weight race on the Saratoga turf. Later that year, he finished ninth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IIT). In his most recent start, the bay colt ran third in the American Turf Stakes (gr. IIT) May 6 at Churchill Downs.
Breaking from the inside post under Alex Solis, Air Support will carry top weight of 123 pounds.
“He’s run two very good races this year,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “His race at Keeneland was great and we changed our tactics a little bit from the Breeders’ Cup. I felt, everyone felt, like he laid up a little bit too close that day and didn’t finish. So, we hauled him back a little bit at Keeneland, and he came running and beat a pretty good horse in Great Mills.”
All three of Air Support’s career victories have come at 1 1/16 miles. While McGaughey admitted the one-mile distance of the Hill Prince may not be ideal, it does suit the potential schedule he has laid out for the colt.
“The mile might not be the best for him, but I prefer to run him at a mile going to a mile and a quarter rather than just sitting on him,” McGaughey said. “He’s training really well, we gave him a bit of a breather after he raced at Churchill, and everything has been good coming in to this race so far.”
Although Air Support is the most accomplished horse in the Hill Prince field, he will face competition from a number of talented newcomers, including the top three finishers from the James W. Murphy Stakes on the Preakness Day undercard at Pimlico on May 21.
Chinglish, 2 3/4-length winner of the Murphy, began his career on the main track at Aqueduct, finishing sixth in his only start as a 2-year-old. Moved to the turf at the start of his sophomore season, he finished fifth and second in a pair of maiden races at Gulfstream Park before graduating on March 26. He then was sixth in a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream on April 23 after being bumped in the early going.
A son of War Front trained by Mark Hennig for Jerry and Ronald Frankel, Chinglish was tabbed as the 4-1 morning-line second choice and will break from post 8 under John Velazquez.
Humble and Hungry, runner-up in the Pimlico race, will be ridden by Eddie Castro, while third-place finisher Master Dunker will have the services of Gabriel Saez.
Fastest Magician and Longhunter, the one-two finishers from the A Gift overnight stakes at Belmont on May 22, will meet again in the Hill Prince.
Dismissed at 22-1 when making his first start on turf in the A Gift, Fastest Magician split horses in the stretch and went on to post a one-length upset of favored Longhunter.
“He’s a nice horse and he was very, very powerful the last time he ran,” said Robin Smullen, assistant to Barclay Tagg, who trains the gelding for Charles Fipke. “We told (jockey Jose Lezcano) to take him back out of the gate because he makes one little run and he’s very fast doing it, and he was.”
Casino Host, co-third choice on the morning line at 5-1, will step into stakes company for the first time in the Hill Prince, having lost a neck decision in a 1 1/8-mile turf allowance at Churchill Downs on May 6.
Street Game, an easy turf allowance winner at Belmont on May 21 and East of Danzig, who has not raced since a fourth-place effort in Gulfstream’s Palm Beach Stakes (gr. IIIT) on March 12, complete the field.
$100,000 Hill Prince Stakes (gr. IIIT, Race 8, 4:44 p.m.), 3YO, 1 Mile (Turf) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer 1. Air Support (KY), A O Solis, 123, C R McGaughey III
2. Longhunter (GB), H Velasquez, 118, C Clement
3. East of Danzig (NY), J Valdivia Jr., 116, M R Matz
4. Fastest Magician (KY), K J Desormeaux, 118, B Tagg
5. Casino Host (KY), D Cohen, 116, C C Brown
6. Street Game (NY), R Curatolo, 116, P M Serpe
7. Master Dunker (FL), G Saez, 120, D Fawkes
8. Chinglish (KY), J R Velazquez, 120, M A Hennig
9. Humble and Hungry (KY), E Castro, 116, I Correas IV