HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -- Smooth Air has won stakes around two turns on turf and on dirt, but his future will now be in races run around one turn on the main track.
Smooth Air added the one-turn mile to his repertoire on Saturday when he rallied from off the pace to win the Grade 2, $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap by 1 1/4 lengths over Finallymadeit. It was three-quarters of a length back to Formidable, who was followed in the order of finish by Bribon, 2-1 favorite Cool Coal Man, and How's Your Halo.
The win was the sixth from 14 career starts for Smooth Air, who increased his purse earnings to $932,300 for owner/breeder Brian Burns, who operates under the name Mount Joy Stables Inc. At 3, he won the Hutcheson here at seven furlongs and the Grade 2 Ohio Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Thistledown.
Following Saturday's race, Burns said the goal for Smooth Air would be the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on Memorial Day, May 25.
"We wanted to make sure he could stay with the pace and then close,'' Burns said in the winner's circle. "To be honest. I thought at the sixteenth pole we might be hanging a little. Then all of a sudden he does what he always does, he fires.''
Under Paco Lopez, Smooth Air raced a close up third while Finallymadeit made the lead, pressed by Formidable through a quarter in 24.19 seconds and a half-mile in 46.30. Formidable, under Javier Castellano, appeared to sneak away in midstretch, but Smooth Air was charging despite being floated out by Finallymadeit. Inside the sixteenth pole, Smooth Air was able to collar Formidable while outfinishing Finallymadeit. Smooth Air, a Florida-bred son of Smooth Jazz, covered the mile in 1:35.49 and returned $6.80 as the second choice.
"I thought the race would set up for him,'' trainer Bennie Stutts said. "He was laying closer than I actually thought he would be. I thought he would be a little farther back, but he was so fresh and sharp; he definitely ran his race. He ran back to his works.''
Stutts said he would look to run Smooth Air once before the Met Mile. One option could be the Westchester, a one-turn mile on opening day at Belmont on April 29.
El Crespo takes Palm Beach
After a failed dirt experiment in the Holy Bull Stakes, El Crespo confirmed his affinity for the turf by rolling past pacesetting Duke of Homberg turning for home and holding two rivals at bay in deep stretch to win the Grade 3, $150,000 Palm Beach Stakes by one length.
Lime Rickey finished second by a head over Stormalory. It was the third consecutive stakes race here this winter in which Lime Rickey finished second. Sweetlandofliberty finished fourth with Duke of Homberg, who was loose on an easy lead finishing last. Beacon Hill Road scratched.
Under Javier Castellano, El Crespo stalked Duke of Homberg through splits of 25.65 seconds, 48.96, and 1:11.62. El Crespo drew on even terms with Duke of Homberg turning for home and opened a clear lead in midstretch. Castellano said his horse began to look around in the stretch, before he hit him a couple of times with his whip.
El Crespo, a son of A.P. Indy owned and bred by G Watts Humphrey Jr., and trained by Rusty Arnold, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.71 over firm turf and returned $10.
"He was very good, very impressive today,'' Castellano said. "I know it was a small field, but those horses ran in the Hallandale Beach last time; they're good decent horses and he beat them in a nice way, the right way.''