01/05/2008 12:00AM

Smooth Air 'Stutts' his stuff in Hutcheson

Bob Coglianese
Smooth Air rallies into the stretch under rider Manny Cruz en route to a length win in Saturday?s Grade 2 Hutcheson.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - Smooth Air gave Bennie Stutts Jr. the biggest win of his 40-year career as a trainer, outfinishing a game Silver Edition by a length to score an upset in Saturday's Grade 2, $150,000 Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Smooth Air, a homebred son of Smooth Jazz owned by the Mount Joy Stables, is based year round with Stutts at Calder Race Course. Under patient handling from regular rider Manny Cruz, Smooth Air rated off the early pace set by Tiz It and forced by Silver Edition, tipped out three wide to commence his rally going into the stretch, then outfinished Silver Edition.

Silver Edition overtook Tiz It to gain a short advantage near midstretch, dug in resolutely once headed by Smooth Air, and was easily second-best. Halo Najib, the 2-1 favorite, finished third after racing greenly through midstretch.

Smooth Air, who had finished second and third in restricted stakes this fall at Calder, ran the seven furlongs in 1:23.21 seconds over a sloppy track and paid $20.60

"I trained for 30 years before ever winning a stakes of any kind, and that first one was also for Mount Joy," said a delighted Stutts. "The only graded stakes I'd won before today was the Fred Hooper at Calder with Pre Dawn Raid a few years ago, and that was a Grade 3. So I guess you can say I'm moving up in the world."

Stutts has several options for Smooth Air's next start, including the six-furlong Sunshine Millions Dash at Santa Anita on Jan. 26 and the 1 1/16-mile Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 16.

"I think this horse will go farther," said Stutts. "You can rate him, and speed is always dangerous when it can be rated."

Earlier on the card, Noonmark returned to the scene of the best previous performance of his career, a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Swale Stakes in 2006, and gained his first graded stakes win, outfinishing Mach Ride by two lengths to capture the Grade 3, $100,000 Mr. Prospector Handicap.

Noonmark benefited from a perfectly judged ride by jockey Rene Douglas. A 5-year-old son of Unbridled's Song, Noonmark was well placed along the rail behind Finallymadeit and Keyed Entry, who dueled on the lead through fractions of 21.95 and 44.85 seconds. Noonmark found room inside the tiring Finallymadeit when launching his bid in early stretch, overtook Mach Ride leaving the eighth pole, and won going away.

Mach Ride raced just outside Noonmark around the turn, angled three wide to go after the leaders entering the stretch, held a short advantage to the eighth pole and then was no match for the winner. Finallymadeit outlasted Roi Maudit by a half-length to finish third.

Noonmark ($12.80), who covered the six furlongs in 1:09.72 over the sloppy track, is trained by Steve Asmussen for owners George Bolton, Joan Corrigan, and Antony Beck.

"I watched his past races and he is very honest," said Douglas. "I looked for any opening and took it. He exploded down the stretch."