11/24/2007 1:00AM

Big Lover, Smooth Air in Calder spotlight

EmailMIAMI - Big Lover has already seen his best days while Smooth Air's future looks bright. The two colts may be heading in different directions career-wise, but they'll share top billing at Calder on Monday with Big Lover the likely favorite in the featured ninth race and Smooth Air the one to beat in the seventh.

Big Lover is a former stakes winner and was multiple stakes placed at both 2 and 3. But after posting four victories and earning $167,000 as a 3-year-old in 2006, Big Lover has gone winless this season, eventually dropping in under a $40,000 claiming tag when haltered by owner-trainer Dan Hurtak on Aug. 24.

Big Lover earned the favorite's role on Monday by virtue of his second-place finish behind 7-5 Olympic under similar optional claiming conditions 18 days earlier. He will again race under a $40,000 price tag in the $27,500 headliner, which will be run at a mile and 70 yards.

Villainage, who finished less than two lengths behind Big Lover when the pair met on Nov. 8, is also among the key contenders in a field that includes stakes winner Kristali and the stakes-placed 3-year-old Pop Goes the Tiger.

Smooth Air stamped himself one of the rising stars of the local 2-year-old division when finishing second behind He's Eze and nearly a length in front of division kingpin Wise Answer in the Jack Price Juvenile earlier this month.

Smooth Air will drop down to allowance competition in Monday's co-featured seventh race, which is carded at seven furlongs under entry-level conditions. The son of Smooth Jazz earned a 92 Beyer Speed Figure for his effort in the Jack Price and a repeat performance would put the homebred back in the winner's circle for the second time in four starts.

Manuel Cruz, who rode four winners here on both Thursday and Friday, will keep his regular seat aboard Smooth Air for trainer Bennie Stutts Jr.

New Believer looms the chief threat in his local bow. He dueled for the early lead before edging away to a 1 1/2-length victory in his career debut at Keeneland on Oct. 19.

Run With Me also enters the race off an impressive maiden victory when rallying to a five-length win over a sloppy track here on Oct. 28. He has subsequently returned to post a bullet five-furlong work in 1:00.