If his last race is any indication, Mount Joy Stables’ Smooth Air should be set up for a big run in the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (gr. II) on March 14 at Gulfstream Park, a race that has been shortened from 1 3/16 miles to one mile this season.
When last seen Smooth Air led in deep stretch in the Feb. 7 Tallahassee Stakes on the Gulfstream turf, only to be passed by Vanquisher in the final yards. It was the 4-year-old debut for the son of Smooth Jazz and was the perfect prep for this main track contest.
“Everything has gone right on schedule since the beginning of the year,” said trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. “We picked out the turf race to bring him back. He just got beat on the wire and never saw that other horse coming, but the timing was perfect to get ready for this race.
“He’s a different horse this year than last when he was kind of laid back. He’s become very aggressive in his training and wants to do more. The goal for him is to win a grade I at some point this season to enhance his value as a stallion prospect. He’s already accomplished quite a lot, but with his pedigree, a grade one win would make all the difference.”
Winner of the Hutcheson (gr. II) and Ohio Derby (gr. II) as a sophomore, Smooth Air also finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I), which gives him a big class edge over his five rivals. An earner of $752,200 from 13 starts, the bay colt will be ridden by Paco Lopez. Smooth Air, who is out of the French Deputy mare Air France, will carry 118 pounds and break from post 6.
Four of the other five Gulfstream Park Handicap starters enter off wins. Most notable is How's Your Halo, who won the seven-furlong Richter Scale Sprint (gr. II) by a half-length Feb. 14 at Gulfstream. The 6-year-old son of Halo's Image earned his first graded stakes score for owner-trainer Brian Prichard and will be making his third start of the season. Juan Leyva will ride once again.
Marc Keller’s French-bred gelding Bribon romped by six lengths in optional claiming company Feb. 12 at Gulfstream at the same one-mile distance. The 6-year-old was third, only three parts of length back, in the Hill ‘N’ Dale Cigar Mile (gr. I) last November at Aqueduct in his first graded stakes test in the U.S. Cornelio Velasquez will get the mount for the first time.
“He seems to be doing well,” said trainer Rob Ribaudo. “He doesn’t need a lot of work between his races. He’s dead fit for the race and doing good. We just have to hope he can put it together at the right time. We’ve seen him do it before. We’re hoping he does it Saturday.”
Like Smooth Air, Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man was prominent on the Triple Crown trail last season. The Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner ran 15th in the Kentucky Derby and then went on to start four more times in 2008, including a third-place finish in the Travers (gr. I). The son of Mineshaft made his season debut a successful one, winning a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer Jan. 28 at Gulfstream under Jose Lezcano, who will be in the irons for Nick Zito once again.
Completing the field are Donn Handicap (gr. I) runner-up Finallymadeit and impressive allowance winner Formidable. Both are expected to be part of the early pace scenario.