04/23/2009 11:00PM

Scratch leaves Halo Najib a heavy favorite

Email

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Halo Najib could start as an odds-on favorite Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star Park following the Friday morning scratch of Smooth Air. Smooth Air became ill with colic on Thursday night and was taken to an ontrack clinic for treatment and observation, said his trainer, Bennie Stutts.

"The horse is much better," Stutts said Friday. "Nobody wants these things to happen. For some reason they do. He's so healthy otherwise."

Smooth Air, who was expected to start as the favorite off his win in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, will fly back to his Calder Race Course base on Tuesday. His defection puts Halo Najib in a strong position to pick up the first graded stakes win of his career after placing in three straight Grade 2 races at Santa Anita since January.

The Texas Mile is the first major race of the Lone Star meet, and it will be supported by three other $50,000 stakes on Saturday for total purses of $460,000. All of the races are designed as preps for the rich Lone Star Million Day program of stakes here May 25. Halo Najib could return next month for the Grade 3, $400,000 Lone Star Park Handicap with the right kind of effort in the Texas Mile.

"If he runs really big, we'd go back again," said his Southern California-based trainer, Mike Mitchell.

Mitchell has had Halo Najib, who races for Zayat Stables, for his last three starts, which have included a runner-up finish to Georgie Boy in the San Carlos in February. In his most recent out, Halo Najib was second by a half-length in the Portrero Grande, a 6 1/2-furlong race for which he earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 101. Saturday, he moves back to both two turns and conventional dirt for the first time since 2008, and Mitchell, who won the Texas Mile in 2004 with Kela, feels good about the changes with Halo Najib.

"He won a stakes at OBS going long, and I think he's just kind of a versatile horse," he said. "Anywhere from six and a half to a mile right now is going to be his distance, and he seems like he can run on anything."

Halo Najib, who will attempt to become the seventh California invader to win the Texas Mile from 13 runnings, will break from the rail under Jose Lezcano. He could show the way given the quick-paced race he exits. Jonesboro, who would become a millionaire with a win Saturday, drew a tactical post for the Texas Mile in gate 5. He could get a nice tracking trip off Halo Najib, as he is cutting back from 1 1/8 miles after being part of a strong pace when third in the Grade 2, $500,000 Oaklawn Handicap.

"I've always kind of thought deep down that seven-eighths to a mile was his best distance," said Randy Morse, the longtime trainer of multiple graded stakes winner Jonesboro.

Cliff Berry has the mount on the horse, who races for Michael Langford.

Catmantoo, who was seventh in the Oaklawn, seems poised to run back to one of his better efforts this year, said his trainer, Tim Ice. The horse won a $40,000 optional claimer at Oaklawn at a mile in January, then followed that race up with a big third-place finish to Let It Rock in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback, also at Oaklawn, in March.

Chris Rosier has the mount on Catmantoo, who is looking for his first stakes win Saturday.