06/02/2008 11:00PM

Iowa Derby next stop for Smooth Air


ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill. - Bennie Stutts has gone back home to south Florida to attend to his regular string of horses stabled at Calder Race Course, but the Stutts stable star, Smooth Air, is back at his summer home at Arlington Park, where he will prepare for his next start, the June 27 Iowa Derby.

Smooth Air won the Ohio Derby by four lengths on Saturday at Thistledown, and "came out of the race excellent," according to Stutts. He traveled by van from the Cleveland area back to Arlington on Sunday - "Sunday's a great day to ship," Stutts said. "No traffic." - and will have a breeze perhaps on June 15, which would give him time to work twice before his next race.

The Iowa Derby, worth $250,000, is contested over 1 1/16 miles, a distance a half-furlong shorter than the Ohio Derby, and some 330 yards shorter than Smooth Air's previous start in the Kentucky Derby.

"It'll be like a sprint for him," Stutts said.

Stutts shipped Smooth Air and a 3-year-old grass filly named Cubs Fan to Arlington in mid-May, figuring it would be easier for Smooth Air to travel to various 3-year-old stakes from the Chicago area than it would be from Calder. Smooth Air will follow the same path blazed last year by Delightful Kiss, who won the Ohio Derby and the Iowa Derby as the only horse trained by Pete Anderson, an ex-jockey who actually rode for Stutts's father, trainer Bennie Stutts Sr., some 60 years ago, in the late 1940s.

The late spring has turned into a trip down memory lane for the 70-year-old Stutts, who never before has had a horse as good as Smooth Air, a homebred owned by the Mount Joy Stables of Brian Burns. Stutts had not been at Arlington for decades when he arrived here with Smooth Air; in fact, it had been 50 years since he saddled a horse to race at a track in Cleveland.

Smooth Air is by the $3,000 stud Smooth Jazz, and is no imposing physical specimen, but he is well on his way to being one of the most successful members of his generation. Earlier this year he won the Grade 2 Hutcheson before finishing second to Big Brown in the Florida Derby, and he bounced back from a tough-trip 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to roll over seven rivals Saturday, running nine furlongs in a fine 1:50.26.

"He was awesome, dominated that field," Stutts said. "I went and talked to the jockey [Manoel Cruz], just him and I, earlier in the afternoon, and he was confident. He said, 'He'll win.' "

Stutts said Smooth Air is under the care of trainer Leigh Bentley at Arlington - a good thing for Bentley.

"It's just a pleasure to be around this horse," Stutts said. "He's a professional athlete."

Recapturetheglory works publicly

The Iowa Derby is one of two options for Arlington-based 3-year-old Recapturetheglory, who also could wind up at Churchill Downs on June 14 for the Northern Dancer Stakes.

Recapturetheglory had his first work since his fifth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby on Sunday at Arlington, and it was both fast and unusual. Recapturetheglory worked four furlongs in 46 seconds, including a final quarter-mile in just more than 22 seconds, and did so between races on Sunday's afternoon racing program. Jockey James Graham, who has never ridden Recapturetheglory, was aboard for the drill.

While there certainly weren't 100,000-plus fans at Arlington on Sunday, being in a race-day environment might have been beneficial for Recapturetheglory, who became agitated by the Derby Day throng, at one point throwing jockey E.T. Baird to the ground on the way from the paddock to the racetrack.

"He handled it really well, and it probably was good schooling for him, since he doesn't handle crowds well," said Lara Van Deren, assistant to trainer Louie Roussel.

Recapturetheglory won the Illinois Derby by four lengths before finishing almost 12 lengths behind Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby. He was under consideration for the Preakness Stakes before suffering a bruised foot and developing a minor fever a little more than a week before the race.

Junior Alvarado making a splash

Probably no more than a few souls in Chicago had heard of Junior Alvarado before the he brought his tack to Arlington a couple weeks ago. But after winning four races - and finishing second or third in nine others - in his first 19 mounts, Alvarado's name is getting around now.

He is a 23-year-old Venezuelan, and said he rode 57 winners in his native land before moving to Florida. He began riding at Gulfstream at the beginning of 2007, and besides a handful of mounts at Monmouth Park, has ridden exclusively in Florida. Alvarado, who still is learning English, said he left Calder because opportunities had declined in the wake of a dispute between horsemen and track ownership that has led to a steep purse reduction.

"I watched Arlington on TV, and I liked it," Alvarado said.

The agent Oscar Sanchez is booking mounts for Alvarado here, and said he had contacted the rider through Florida-based jockey Jose Rivera, for whom Sanchez had once served as agent.

"I'm tickled to death," Sanchez said. "He didn't let me down. He rode the hair off the horses, and he followed instructions."

Magnetic Miss upsets heavy favorite

Magnetic Miss scored a 6-1, six-length, front-running upset Sunday in the Your Ladyship, an overnight stakes for Illinois-breds. Odds-on favorite Rolling Sea briefly threatened on the turn, but faded to last of six in her 2008 debut.

Later on the card, Last Gran Standing won a stakes-class Illinois-bred allowance race by 1 1/2 lengths, his second straight impressive victory over Arlington Polytrack.

* The highest-class race on Thursday's card are race 7, an open entry-level allowance, and race 8, for second-level allowance for Illinois-breds.