04/23/2009 11:00PM

Smooth Air takes on Texas, then New York

Email
Bob Coglianese
Smooth Air, winner of the Grade 2 Gulfstream Handicap in Florida, will use the Grade 3 Texas Mile as his stepping-stone to the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - Smooth Air's goal this season is to nail down a Grade 1 win, and his path to that objective will run through Lone Star Park on Saturday. He is set to start as the probable favorite in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile, which will serve as his springboard to the Grade 1, $600,000 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park on May 25.

"Our main objective is to try to win a Grade 1 with him," said Bennie Stutts, who trains Smooth Air for Mount Joy Stables. "The Met Mile is one month from this race. We're hoping we can take care of business here, and then go to New York and take care of business there."

The Texas Mile is the richest of four stakes to be run at Lone Star on Saturday, with the races worth a total of $450,000. The main event had eight to nine probable starters as of Wednesday, among them Halo Najib, a stakes winner from Southern California, and Jonesboro, who with a win would become a millionaire Saturday.

Smooth Air, who is based in south Florida, would also become a millionaire with a win in the Texas Mile. He burst onto the Triple Crown scene last year when he won the Grade 2 Hutcheson, then finished second to eventual Kentucky Derby winner Big Brown in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. Smooth Air was unplaced at Churchill Downs the first Saturday in May, but went on to win the Grade 2 Ohio Derby. In his most recent start, he won the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Handicap, a one-turn mile race March 14 for which he earned a career-best Beyer Figure of 103. He flew to Lone Star from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Tuesday.

"We galloped him on the track today," Stutts said Wednesday. "He's on top of his game."

Stutts said a Grade 1 win would enhance Smooth Air's value as a stallion. The horse, who is 4, is by the Storm Boot stud Smooth Jazz. His dam, Air France, is by French Deputy.

Stutts said Paco Lopez has the mount in the Texas Mile.

Two big races on deck for Ice

Tim Ice, 34, has been training for less than one year but will be going for a rich double over the next two weeks. He has Catmantoo on deck for the Texas Mile on Saturday, then the following weekend will send out Summer Bird in the Kentucky Derby.

"I'm No. 20," Ice said of the graded earnings list to get into the Derby. "It's amazing. It's been quite an experience to just even be on the bubble, then to get in. It's special."

Ice said Summer Bird, who was third earlier this month in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby, arrived at Churchill Downs from his Louisiana Downs base on Wednesday, and is scheduled to breeze six furlongs on Friday.

The following day, Ice will send out Catmantoo in the Texas Mile. The horse was third in the Grade 3, $150,000 Razorback at Oaklawn in March. On the Texas Mile undercard, Ice plans to start Affirmed Truth in the $50,000 Richland Hills. She gave the trainer his first stakes win back in March, when she captured the $50,000 Rainbow Miss at Oaklawn.

Chris Rosier has the mount on both horses, as well as on Summer Bird. Ice said he likes the Kentucky Derby distance for Summer Bird, who closed from 15 lengths back in the Arkansas Derby to finish 1 1/4 lengths behind winner Papa Clem.

"He ran so well in the Arkansas Derby going a mile and an eighth and he galloped out in front of Papa Clem," Ice said. "He galloped out strong, and I think the mile and a quarter would help him. We were pointing for the Lone Star Derby, but the race is a mile and a sixteenth and I'd rather go a mile and a quarter with him than shorten him up."

Ice, whose stable is based at Louisiana Downs, is a former assistant to trainers Keith Desormeaux, Morris Nicks, and Cole Norman. He went out on his own in June 2008.

* Galloping Gulch should be sharp for the move back to a mile in Friday night's ninth race, a first-level allowance for 3-year-olds, after finishing second by a neck in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance at Sunland Park in his last start March 29.