Reed Palmer Photography, Churchill Downs

Airoforce Ready for 2016 Debut in Risen Star

John C Oxley's Airoforce has done little wrong in his career.

John C. Oxley's Airoforce has done little wrong in his career.

A smashing winner on debut going six furlongs on the grass at Kentucky Downs in a sharp 1:10.34, the son of Colonel John was equally as dominant in the Bourbon Stakes (gr. IIIT) next time out at Keeneland in his two-turn debut.

The flashy colt was then nailed on the wire in a neck loss in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (gr. IT) and was a clear victor in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs, his dirt debut in late November over a sloppy and sealed surface.

NOVAK: Airoforce Splashes Home in KY Jockey Club

Going into the Feb. 20 Risen Star Stakes (gr. II) at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Airoforce looms as the deserving favorite in the 1 1/16-mile event. The Mark Casse trainee will try to kick off his sophomore season with another step on the Triple Crown trail.

"He's doing tremendously," Casse said. "I think he's progressed (from 2- to 3-years-old) and done well. He got a lot of racing in his 2-year-old year and his last race has turned out to be a pretty good race on form. He's a neck away from being undefeated and we're happy with him.

"We cranked him up in his last work, that's for sure," Casse continued. "In his first five-eighths work (1:00 1/5 Jan. 31), he got a little tired and came out of it a little under the weather. He bounced back quickly and his second work (five furlongs in :59 3/5 Feb. 6) was really good. More importantly, he came out of that work on top of his game. We had turned the lights off for a while on him (to freshen him), but now they're back on."

While the gray or roan colt has conquered much of what he has been asked to do, one thing he has yet to try is a fast dirt track, which he may encounter in the Risen Star. A winner on firm turf, yielding grass, and the aforementioned sloppy track, the talented charge defeated Mor Spirit and Mo Tom in the Kentucky Jockey Club. Those two have since scored three graded stakes wins between them.

Mo Tom is expected to be the Risen Star's second choice on the merit of his open-length local victory in the Lecomte Stakes (gr. III) Jan. 16.

ANGST: Saintly Lecomte for Mo Tom, G M B Racing

Mor Spirit, on the other hand, returned to California to take the Los Alamitos Futurity (gr. I) in December and then kicked off his 2016 season with a victory in the Robert B. Lewis (gr. III) at Santa Anita Park.

NOVAK: Mor Spirit Secures Robert B. Lewis Score

"You never can tell if they'll handle the (fast) dirt with works, but he has a dirt pedigree," Casse said. "The only reason he originally ran on the turf was because the purse of the Kentucky Downs maiden was $120,000. Once he ran so well and broke his maiden, it was hard to take him off the grass. After the Breeders' Cup we wanted to find out how he would handle dirt and even though it was sloppy, you couldn't ask him to do much more than he did that day. It should have worked to his disadvantage, but he took a lot of slop and still won."

Airoforce will fly into New Orleans from South Florida Feb. 18.