09/08/2012 2:59PM

Belmont Park: Air Support works hard to get it done in Bowling Green

Adam Coglianese/NYRA
Air Support (left), gets up to beat Bombaguia by a head in the Bowling Green.

ELMONT, N.Y. – John Velazquez felt Air Support was cruising so nicely in behind the pacesetting Bombaguia that he thought he was going to win Saturday’s Grade 2 Bowling Green Handicap at Belmont Park by open lengths.

But when Velazquez pulled Air Support outside and into the clear for the stretch drive, he had a much different feeling.

“He forgot that he was running,” Velazquez said. “That scared the heck out of me.”

But with the length of the Belmont stretch in front of him, Velazquez gave Air Support a few reminders that he had more work to do and got Air Support past Bombaguia in the final strides to win the $200,000 Bowling Green by a head. It was 7 1/4 lengths back to Brilliant Speed in third. Brujo de Olleros and Newsdad completed the order of finish.

The win was the fifth from 15 lifetime starts for Air Support, his first since he won the Grade 2 Virginia Derby by a neck in July 2011. Since then, Air Support had been winless in five starts since, including runner-up finishes to Turbo Compressor in both the Colonial Turf Cup and Grade 1 United Nations.

Because of the pedestrian pace established by Bombaguia – he ran a quarter in 26.06 seconds, the half-mile in 50.55, and six furlongs in 1:14.90 – Air Support was kept much closer to the pace than he is accustomed. Still, he had to work harder than one would have expected to beat a horse who had never before run in a stakes.

“The pace was slow, he was laying up closer than he usually does, so that could’ve taken away from him a little bit,” trainer Shug McGaughey said. “He wouldn’t have won if he didn’t have him where he was.”

With a strong headwind against him in the stretch, Air Support, a son of Smart Strike owned by Stuart Janney III, covered the 1 1/4 miles over an inner turf course labeled good in 2:06.12 and returned $4.90 as the favorite.

McGaughey wasn’t sure what would be next for Air Support, but didn’t rule out the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita on Nov. 3. He also mentioned the Sycamore at Keeneland on Oct. 18  or the Red Smith at Aqueduct on Nov. 3.