05/11/2009 11:00PM

Smooth Air gets stamina work

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Bob Coglianese
Smooth Air, who missed the Texas Mile because of colic, is training for the one-turn Met Mile at Belmont.

MIAMI - The Calder racetrack is widely recognized as being a little deeper and a little slower than most. Many local trainers believe that factor provides a distinct advantage when they prepare their horses to ship and run out of town.

The Calder racetrack has been even slower than usual over the past couple of weeks, both for training and during the races. That is perhaps just what the doctor ordered for trainer Bennie Stutts Jr., who is readying his three-time Grade 2 winner Smooth Air to return from a three-month layoff in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 25.

Smooth Air, who missed a scheduled start last month in the Texas Mile because of a case of colic, had his next-to-last work for the Met Mile here Tuesday. Working seven furlongs from the 6 1/2-furlong pole to a sixteenth of a mile beyond the wire, Smooth Air posted fractions of 26.37 seconds, 51.08, and 1:14.99 before completing the distance in 1:27.45 and galloping out one mile in 1:42.32, according to Daily Racing Form.

"The track is slow," said Stutts. "It's dead here and has been dead here for a while, because we haven't had any serious rain. But I'm not displeased with the work. He hasn't run in three months, and this work is going to put a little more bottom into him.

"We've seen horses train here during the winter, go over to Gulfstream, which is faster, and run so much faster all the time. He's going to leave here and go to Belmont all that much fitter from having trained over this track. The most important thing is that he cooled out good."

Smooth Air has not started since capturing the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 14. That outing was only his second since his seventh-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic last fall at Santa Anita.

"I think he's really going to like that one-turn mile at Belmont," said Stutts. "Sure I'm concerned about the time off. But the last time he missed three months he finished third in the Pennsylvania Derby, and that day he was conceding eight pounds to both horses who beat him. I can guarantee one thing, they'll know he's in the race, because this little horse tries hard every time."

Stutts said Smooth Air would work five furlongs here next Monday and then ship to New York the following day. Paco Lopez, who has been aboard Smooth Air in both starts this season, will again have the mount in the Metropolitan.

Just how dead was the racetrack here during training hours on Tuesday? The morning's bullet workout at five furlongs was a relatively pedestrian 1:02.80, posted by none other than Grade 3 stakes winner Yesbyjimminy, arguably the top sprinter on the grounds.

Apprentices earn a pair of firsts

Calder Racecourse has always been known as a proving ground for both young horses and young riders. And this season may be no exception when it comes to aspiring apprentice jockeys trying to make a name for themselves by beginning their careers in south Florida.

On Saturday, 22-year-old Jose Angel Garcia guided Deisel Power to an easy victory to register his first win in the mainland United States. Less than 48 hours later, 10-pound apprentice Abraham Banda posted the first victory of his riding career after capturing Monday's opener astride the 2-year-old filly Bwana Express.

Garcia won two races in his native Puerto Rico in 2008 before coming to the mainland to continue his career. Garcia credited countryman Jeffrey Sanchez, who returned to Calder this summer following a successful winter meet in New York, as his "inspiration and sometimes mentor."

"My life is 100 percent horses," said Garcia. "My goal is to win a lot of races and hopefully become the leading apprentice here."

Banda may be a 10-pound apprentice, but at the age of 37 he is also one of the oldest riders in the local colony. A native of Lima, Peru, Banda said he has been in this country for the past five years, working primarily as an exercise rider.

Trainer Braulio Lopez Jr. gave Banda the opportunity to ride Bwana Express, and as a result the trainer was rewarded with his first victory in 2009.

Among the jockeys who went on to win Eclipse Awards as leading apprentices after beginning their careers at Calder are Gene St. Leon (1971), Rosemary Homeister Jr. (1992), Shaun Bridgmohan (1998), Eddie Castro (2003), and Paco Lopez (2008).

Longshot bettors clean up

It's only mid-May, but the tote board lit up like a Christmas tree following Sunday's eighth race after the 70-1 Eventually Wild beat the 45-1 Vegetarian Soldier in a lower-level claiming race on the turf. Eventually Wild was ridden to victory by Pedro Monterrey Jr. and paid $144.60 to win, and keyed exotic payoffs that included a $3,099 exacta, $40,694 trifecta (based on a $2 wager), and a 10-cent superfecta worth $20,576.

Eventually Wild's unexpected performance gave trainer Luis Rizzi his first win of the season.

* Former stakes winner Mysterious Peintre will be heavily favored to win Thursday's featured seventh event, an optional claiming and allowance race carded at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. Mysterious Peintre won overnight stakes here in 2007 and 2008 for trainer Marty Wolfson but will be competing under a $16,000 price tag while making just his second start in 11 months.