All systems are “go” for Smooth Air’s scheduled start in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (gr. I), according to the colt’s conditioner, Bennie Stutts Jr. Decked out in a green bridle and gold bandages on all four legs, the 3-year-old son of Smooth Jazz breezed an easy three furlongs in :38.20 at Churchill Downs Thursday morning in a training effort that was preceded by a brief two-minute lick.
“This was just a little blowout, and he’s ready; he’s a dead fit horse,” Stutts said. “I definitely liked what I saw. When this horse runs and he finishes, he pins his ears and he digs in, and he did the same thing today. He pinned his ears, and he wanted to dig in.”
Sixteen other horses also worked three-eighths at Churchill Thursday, including probable Derby favorite Big Brown, who turned in the quickest clocking of :35.40. But even though Big Brown was much faster than Smooth Air, Stutts said he was pleased with his charge's performance because “this close to the race, we didn’t want to do much with him.” Exercise rider Susie Milne was aboard, taking Smooth Air to the track just after the morning renovation break that begins around 8 a.m. (EDT).
“My exact orders to Susie,” Stutts said, “were from the five-eighths pole to the three-eighths pole a two-minute lick, from the three-eighths pole to the quarter pole like a :13 clip, and then in the stretch from the quarter pole past the wire, I told her to go in :24. And she did it pretty close. Actually he went a little slower than I planned, but at this stage of the game, it’s better he went a little slower than too fast. There was no question that he could have gone faster, but it would have been wrong to have gone any faster.”
Smooth Air 's final work before the Derby would have been completed earlier, but his preparation for the Run for the Roses was interrupted by a low grade fever late last week and he didn’t go to the track Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“I like what my exercise girl says and she’s been on this horse right from the start,” Stutts said. “She’s telling me that he’s just floating on top of the track. He’s not sinking in; he just floats.”
Another good sign is Smooth Air’s relaxed approach to the hustle and bustle of Derby Week in general.
“Last night, when we got back from the draw,” Stutts said,” it was about dark, and we went and looked at him in the stall and he was lying down flat. And that’s him. He gets off his feet a lot. The horse is saving his legs by getting off of them.”
A homebred racing for Mount Joy Stables, Smooth Air captured this year’s Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II), and in his most recent race, he finished second by five lengths to Big Brown in the Florida Derby (gr. I).
“I want this horse to come out of this race the way he’s going into it,” Stutts said. “I see a sound horse, and that’s all I can ask for. If he finishes on the board, I’ll be tickled to death.”