09/16/2008 12:00AM

Smooth Air gets a turf prep

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MIAMI - If prepping for the Breeders' Cup Classic with a race on the turf is good enough for Big Brown, then why shouldn't it be good enough for Smooth Air?

Obviously that's what Bennie Stutts Jr. is thinking. The veteran trainer is plotting a course to the BC Classic for Smooth Air that will begin with the $100,000 Needles Stakes here on Sept. 27. Smooth Air got his first taste of running on the grass on Monday morning, working seven furlongs over a firm course in 1:29.88.

With regular rider Manny Cruz aboard, Smooth Air started off at an extremely slow pace, covering his opening fractions in 29.58 seconds, 4l.81, and 53.21 before picking up the pace and completing his final three furlongs in 36:47 while kept out near the middle of the course most of the way.

"It was a slow work but a useful one," said Stutts. "We wanted to give him a chance to feel the turf, and Manny said he handled it all right. He could have gone faster, but it's only been two weeks since he last ran."

Smooth Air is coming off a third-place finish in the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 1. It was his first start since he won the Grade 2 Ohio Derby on May 31. Smooth Air was hampered by foot problems after the Ohio Derby.

Stutts had considered running Smooth Air in Saturday's Grade 2 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, but decided against that spot because it would have meant giving him only 19 days between starts.

"The owner wants to go to the Breeders' Cup Classic, and I'd like for him to run out of his own stall here at Calder," Stutts said. "I thought his race in the Pennsylvania Derby was excellent considering he'd been away and was spotting the top two finishers eight pounds apiece."

Stutts, who trains Smooth Air for Brian Burns's Mount Joy Stables, said he will consider working Smooth Air over the turf again on Monday.

The Needles is one of four stakes on the Festival of the Sun Preview program on Sept.o27. Carded for 3-year-olds at a 1 1/16 miles on the grass, the Needles closed with 14 nominations. Among them is Mambo Meister, who, unlike Smooth Air, is foregoing the Needles to run in the Super Derby.

Another prominent name on the nomination list for the Needles is Tour Ireland, who returned from a four-month vacation to finish second against older horses under allowance conditions here last weekend. Tour Ireland finished second behind the odds-on Sporting Art in the Grade 3 Calder Derby earlier in the meet.

Sweetnorthernsaint stays put for The Vid

Sweetnorthernsaint, who was among the nominees for Saturday's Massachusetts Handicap at Suffolk Downs, will also stay home to compete Saturday in the $55,000 The Vid Stakes, scheduled for 7 1/2 furlongs on the grass.

"To be honest, in a perfect world, we'll get a little rain and they'll move the race to a mile on the main track," said Leo Azpurua Jr., who took over the training of Sweetnorthernsaint from Michael Trombetta earlier this year. "But I've trained him on the grass and his sire won on grass, so he should handle the turf okay."

Azpurua has been patient with Sweetnorthernsaint, who will make only his third start of the meet if he goes in The Vid. He is coming off a 6 3/4-length victory in the Primal overnight stakes on Aug. 23.

"Right now, the plan is to keep him home for the rest of the year and ultimately point for the Sunshine Millions Classic this winter," said Azpurua, who also trained Sweetnorthernsaint's sire, the stakes winner Sweetsouthernsaint. "There are several stakes races that suit him over the next several months, including the Spend a Buck and the stakes on Florida Millions Day. I'd really like to start him only a couple of more times this year so we'll have a fresh horse for next winter at Gulfstream."

The Grade 3 Spend a Buck will be run on Oct. 18, and the $200,000 Carl G. Rose Classic is carded on Nov. 8.

The Vid drew a field of 12, including three also-eligibles - among them Marnesia's Big Boy, who worked a half-mile in 49 over the main track on Tuesday.

Free admission on weekdays

New admission and wagering formats will begin here this week. Starting Thursday, admission will be free for live racing programs on weekdays throughout the remainder of the meet. Admission will continue to be $5 to the clubhouse and $3 for the grandstand on weekends. In addition, a free parking section will be made available on all live racing days. Fees will continue for preferred ($2) and valet ($5) parking.

Parking and admission is free on simulcast-only days.

Starting Saturday, Calder will inaugurate "The Big 4," a a 50-cent minimum pick-four wager to be offered daily on races 5 through 8. There will no longer be pick-three wagering on the first or fifth races or pick fours on the first four and last four races on the card.

* Golden Spikes, who along with Smooth Air is another of the top 3-year-olds stabled on the grounds, worked an easy half-mile in 50.40 early Tuesday. A decision is pending from his connections regarding when or where the Grade 2 winner will make his next start.