11/28/2015 6:46PM

Airoforce scores over sloppy track in Kentucky Jockey Club


LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The dreariest weather of the Churchill Downs fall meet couldn’t dampen the spirits of the people associated with Airoforce, who gave Julien Leparoux a sweep of both Grade 2 stakes Saturday when rallying to win the Grade 2, $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

“This was exciting,” said Norm Casse, son of and assistant to trainer Mark Casse. “And we’re really excited about what’s ahead.”

Leparoux was aboard Airoforce when the gray Colonel John colt edged clear late from the favored Mor Spirit to win the 89th Kentucky Jockey Club by 1 3/4 lengths. Some 60 minutes beforehand, Leparoux had guided Carina Mia to a front-running score over eight other fillies in the Golden Rod Stakes.

Over a track rendered sloppy by a chilly day-long rain and under the glare of the Churchill lights, Airoforce settled in midpack before gaining steadily in the final turn of the 1 1/16-mile race to enter contention. Angled out for the drive, he went past Gun Runner and Mor Spirit with about 100 yards to run, finishing in 1:45.48. Mo Tom closed well up the rail to finish third, a head behind Mor Spirit and 1 1/2 lengths before a tired Gun Runner.

Airoforce, making his first start on dirt after beginning his career with three grass races, “relaxed beautiful and took to the dirt fine,” said Leparoux, who will move to Gulfstream Park for the winter.

Airoforce, owned by John Oxley, returned $9 as second choice in a field of 13. He was racing in blinkers for the first time, which Casse said “made a big difference, I think. When Julien asked him, he had his mind on business.”

In his previous start, Airoforce was beaten just a neck by Hit It a Bomb in the Oct. 30 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, a race that followed wins in a Kentucky Downs maiden race and the Grade 3 Bourbon at Keeneland.

The $2 exacta (3-9) paid $37.80, the $1 trifecta (3-9-10) returned $160.10, and the 10-cent superfecta (3-9-10-4) was worth $73.70.

The Kentucky Jockey Club, a points race for the Kentucky Derby, and Golden Rod anchored a 12-race Stars of Tomorrow card exclusively for 2-year-olds. Carina Mia ($6.20), a 4 1/4-length winner, is trained by Bill Mott.

In between the two stakes, Casse sent out Conquest Big E ($3.40) to a two-length victory in a first-level allowance as the gray colt completed a mile in 1:37.62 under Shaun Bridgmohan. The time was the fastest of four one-turn-mile races run on the card, including one that was transferred from the turf because of the inclement conditions.

“We’ve always kind of thought Airoforce and Conquest Big E were one-two in the barn,” said Casse.

Casse said both gray colts will be among the stable’s sizable shipment Tuesday to the Palm Meadows training center in Florida, where “those two will get a little break” before likely returning to the races in early February.

Jimmy Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, said Mor Spirit was to be flown back to California early Sunday along with stablemate Hoppertunity, second in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap on Friday.

Airoforce and Conquest Big E are among five Stars of Tomorrow starters listed as separate wagering interests in Pool 1 of the 2016 Kentucky Derby Future Wager, which closes Sunday at 6 p.m. Eastern. The others are Mor Spirit, Annual Report (fifth in the Kentucky Jockey Club), and Rated R Superstar (ninth in the Kentucky Jockey Club).

Besides the Conquest Big E race, two other allowances also were run Saturday, as well as seven maiden-special races.

Two Stars of Tomorrow cards are run each fall at Churchill. Inaugurated in 2005, they have produced 36 Grade 1 winners and 23 millionaires, according to track data.

The 21-day Churchill fall meet ends Sunday with another 12-race card. Action on the Kentucky circuit moves Thursday to Turfway Park.