The seven-furlong Hutcheson was the first of three Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) preps for 3-year-olds at Gulfstream.
Trained by Bennie Stutts Jr., Smooth Air came into the Hutcheson with a pair of wins in four starts, including his most recent effort, a 4 ¾-length triumph in allowance competition at Calder Race Course Nov. 26. But the Florida-bred colt was defeated in both of his restricted stakes starts and was thought to be over his head in a talented field of eight. Bettors agreed, allowing Smooth Air to go off at odds of more than 9-1.
Sovereign Stable’s Tiz It set an ambitious pace, racing to the lead in an opening quarter of :22.04. Silver Edition, Golden Spikes and Coal Play were right off the pace in the early going, with Smooth Air a bit further back.
With Tiz It still holding the advantage through a :44.53 half mile, Smooth Air began to make his move along the rail under Manoel Cruz. He raced three-wide into contention along the turn and was second to Silver Edition by the time they reached the top of the stretch. Tiz It had backed out of it by that point.
It didn't take Smooth Air much time to make the front once they straightened away, as he streaked in front of Silver Edition before the sixteenth pole and finished strong to the wire. Silver Edition was three lengths in front of betting favorite Halo Najib for place. Golden Spikes was fourth.
The final time was 1:23.2 over a muddy track.
“I’m leaving for Brazil early tomorrow for two weeks. I lost my dad about six months ago and I’m going to help get my mom set up and have a vacation," Cruz said. "It’s good to go on a vacation with money.
"This horse has improved a lot. I have been saying to the trainer that this horse will get better with longer races. He showed that here. He held himself up well for me. He was jumping shadows early in the race, so I had to take him close to the other horses to keep his attention. If he hadn’t done that early in the race he probably would have beaten that horse by even more. That’s a good boy right there.”
Out of the French Deputy mare Air France, Smooth Air is based at Calder, where he had made all four of his previous starts. He finished third in the Aug. 11 Florida Stallion Dr. Fager Stakes after leading into the stretch, and then was 2 ¼-lengths back in second in the Nov. 10 Jack Price Juvenile.
“The Calder horse did well," Stutts Jr., said. "You should never count them out. I’ve been training for 40 years and this is the biggest race I’ve ever won.
"The plan was to take him off the pace today. I told Manny (Cruz) this morning to ‘just let the speed go early’ and it worked out well. He broke his maiden in the slop, so I wasn’t worried about the track. There are a couple of options to consider next, including the Sunshine Millions Dash (Jan. 26 at Santa Anita) and the Sam Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs (Feb. 16).”
Smooth Air paid $20.60 to win as the sixth betting choice. The exacta (5-6) with 13-1 Silver Edition was worth $176.20, while the trifecta (5-6-4) with 2-1 Halo Najib returned $757.40.
Big Truck, Tiz It, Coal Play and Notgivinmyloveaway rounded out the order of finish. Cool Coal Man and Grand Minstrel were scratched.
Smooth Jazz is a former grade II winner who retired in 2003 with five wins from 11 starts.