07/16/2011 9:25PM

Colonial Downs: Air Support makes McGaughey, Solis look good in Virginia Derby

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Shug McGaughey sounded some awfully optimistic notes this past week about Air Support’s chances in the Grade 2, $600,000 Virginia Derby, and the colt backed his trainer up, gamely holding off Banned to score a narrow victory in an exciting finish Saturday evening at Colonial Downs.

Jockey Alex Solis, who has regularly teamed with McGaughey since coming to New York this spring, did his part, too, giving Air Support a perfect ground-saving trip while getting a clean run from the back of bulky field. Banned ran well in defeat, losing by a neck, as did longshot Casino Host, who finished another three-quarters back in third.

Air Support ($15.60) had finished a distant second to Virginia Derby starter Street Game last month in the Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont, but that race came over one mile, and McGaughey forecast a stronger performance at the Virginia Derby’s 1 1/4-mile distance, while also speaking in glowing terms of Air Support’s turf work on Sunday in New York.

While Street Game set forth to help make the pace on Saturday (the early fractions were 23.87 seconds for the opening quarter-mile, 48.04 to the half, and 1:12.73 for six furlongs), Air Support dropped out near the back of the 12-horse field. Solis let his mount gain some ground down the backstretch, and before the half-mile pole, seeming to sense that room would open along the inside, Air Support was given his cue to draw even closer.

Following King Congie up the fence around the far turn, Air Support skimmed along with no impediments, tipping out once turning for home to make his run at the leaders. Street Game fell away, and King Congie’s run flattened out, but Banned had put in his own powerful rally, coming nearly to even terms with Air Support at the furlong pole, but, just as McGaughey predicted, Air Support saw out the 10-furlong trip and held Banned at bay to win by a neck. Final time on a firm turf course was 2:00.80.

Air Support, by Smart Strike out of Gaze, was bred and is owned by Stuart Janney III. He won for the fourth time in nine starts and now has won three graded stakes wins on grass.

Virginia Oaks: Excited gets the trip

Excited parlayed a good trip pressing a slow pace into a narrow victory in the Grade 3, $150,000 Virginia Oaks, the race before the Virginia Derby. Summer Savory found running room along the inside in deep stretch, but the finish came before her late rally could reach the winner.

Trained by Todd Pletcher for Michael Tabor and ridden to victory by John Velazquez, Excited raced just behind the leaders while outside and in the clear as Wyomia and Mystical Star backed up the Oaks pace to a slow 49.19 seconds, with the second quarter-mile run in a slow 25.22. Excited took command in midstretch and looked a certain winner inside the eighth pole, but had to withstand a sudden late surge from Summer Savory. Excited won by a half-length with Wyomia another half-length back in third. Mild favorite Dynanic Holiday checked in fifth.

Winning time for the 1 1/8 miles on firm turf was 1:49.70, and Excited, a daughter of Giant's Causeway, paid $7.20 to win.

* Action Andy ($8.80) stretched his speed over 1 1/8 miles to score a front-running victory in the $50,000 Kitten’s Joy Stakes.  Softly Lit ($62.60) upset the Tippett for 2-year-old fillies, and Major Magic ($12) won the Chenery for juvenile males.