05/13/2008 12:00AM

Smooth Air aimed at Ohio Derby


MIAMI - With the Triple Crown now in the rear-view mirror, Smooth Air is ready to begin the rest of his 3-year-old campaign, a second season that may begin May 31 in Thistledown's Grade 2 Ohio Derby.

Smooth Air returned from Churchill Downs none the worse for wear from his 11th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He had his chances compromised right off the bat when he broke into the air and then checked a couple of times during the long run to the clubhouse turn.

"He never backed off his feed, and other than a little scrape on a hock he came back fine," said 70-year-old trainer Bennie Stutts Jr. "He got off badly and checked twice. We also missed two days of training the week before, and I couldn't work him when I wanted, and that didn't help either. But it was a wonderful experience that I'll never forget."

Smooth Air was sidelined a little more than a week out from the Derby when he contracted a slight temperature, forcing him to miss two full days of training and only jog lightly when he was finally healthy enough to return to the track.

Smooth Air, winner of the Grade 2 Hutcheson and runner-up to Big Brown in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, is back galloping over his home course of Calder and has been nominated to the Ohio Derby.

"If things go well, that's where he's going," said Stutts referring to Thistledown's marquee race, which was won last year by the Calder-based Delightful Kiss.

Hey Byrn, winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes in his most recent appearance, also had the Ohio Derby as his target before a last-minute change in plans sent him off to Baltimore on Monday for another crack at Big Brown in the Preakness. Hey Byrn finished a dozen lengths behind the Kentucky Derby winner when we was a troubled fourth in the Florida Derby.

Delightful Kiss, who followed his impressive victory in the 2007 Ohio Derby with another big win in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, is about ready to launch his 2008 campaign. A homebred son of Kissin Kris trained by former jockey Pete Anderson, Delightful Kiss has not started since finishing fifth in the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park on Aug. 4. Delightful Kiss returned to training late this winter and has worked six times in preparation for his return, including seven furlongs over the turf in 1:28 on May 5.

Trujillo follows the money

Jockey Elvis Trujillo is not going to stick around long enough to defend his 2007 Calder riding title. The reigning champion here, Trujillo packed his tack following the conclusion of business here Monday and is heading for Churchill Downs along with veteran agent Cliff Collier. Trujillo, who won 160 races to capture his first local riding title last summer and another 91 when he was second behind Manoel Cruz during the 2007 Tropical at Calder session, recently returned to the saddle after suffering a broken wrist in a frightening spill at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 23.

"We decided to leave because of the purse cuts here," explained Collier. "We were torn between moving to Monmouth Park or Churchill Downs, but it looks like trainers Wesley Ward and Dale Romans will be helping us out at Churchill, and that's the main reason we finally made the decision to go to Kentucky."

Aside from all the success he had at Calder last season, Trujillo also won his first Grade 1 race, Saratoga's Ballerina, and first Breeders' Cup event, the Filly and Mare Sprint, last year, both aboard Maryfield.

Trujillo left with a bang, posting hat tricks on both the Sunday and Monday cards. He shared riding honors on Sunday with Pedro Monterrey Jr., who also won three races on Mother's Day.

Bushmills Best needs rider

With Trujillo leaving town, trainer Kirk Ziadie will have to search for a new pilot for his Bushmills Best, who figures to be among the favorites in Thursday's featured eighth race. Ziadie named Trujillo aboard Bushmills Best when entries closed for Thursday's program on Saturday.

Thursday's main event, to be decided at a mile and 70 yards under optional claiming and allowance conditions, offers just a $21,000 purse and is a good example why Trujillo has decided to leave the area. The purse includes $2,100 in Florida Owners Awards, which means the race is worth only $18,900 to Bridled Quest and Packer, both of whom are Kentucky-breds.

A Bit of Madness will also be among the favorites in the race despite having made his last six starts on grass. He will get some class relief on Thursday after finishing eighth in Tampa's Turf Classic on April 5 against a field that included runner-up Silver Tree, who subsequently returned to win Belmont's Grade 3 Fort Marcy Handicap.