05/22/2009 12:00AM

Smooth Air tries luck on road again


ELMONT, N.Y. - With the exception of last year's Ohio Derby, trainer Bennie Stutts hasn't had a lot of luck when it comes to shipping Smooth Air out of south Florida. Perhaps his fortunes will change Monday when Smooth Air runs in the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park.

At 118 pounds, Smooth Air is the starting highweight in a wide-open 116th renewal of the Met Mile, the featured event on an 11-race Memorial Day card that begins at 1 p.m. This year's Met drew 13 runners, the largest field since 14 started in 1991, a race won by In Excess over Rubiano where 4-5 favorite Housebuster finished eighth.

Smooth Air, who drew post 2, will likely vie for favoritism with Bribon, the one-length winner of the Grade 3 Westchester Handicap here April 29. Bribon will break from post 11.

Smooth Air comes off a Grade 2 win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap on March 14. That was not scheduled to be his last start before the Met. Stutts shipped Smooth Air to Lone Star Park for the $300,000 Texas Mile, but had to scratch when the horse developed a case of colic the day before the race.

"They had him picked [first] all the way across and he got to colicking, so we had to scratch him," Stutts said. "But he's fine and doing good now. He's had some really good works at Calder. He's as good as he can be. He's ready."

Stutts wondered why his horse was the highweight. Smooth Air is the most accomplished dirt runner, with a trio of Grade 2 victories on the surface. Mr. Sidney is a Grade 1 winner on turf, while Runforthedoe won a Group 1 dirt race in Argentina.

Smooth Air's lone win outside of Florida came in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown last summer. In September, he finished third in the Pennsylvania Derby, a race in which he spotted the first two finishers eight pounds. After that race, Smooth Air won the Needles at Calder before finishing seventh to Raven's Pass in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita.

On Monday, Smooth Air will break from post 2 under Paco Lopez, who was aboard for his Gulfstream Park Handicap victory.

"If I had a perfect position, it would maybe be 5 or 6, but I don't think it's going to make that much difference," Stutts said. "He's got tactical speed, and that long stretch is going to be in his favor."

So will the presence of speed horses such as Accredit, who drew the rail, Riley Tucker (post 5), Mr. Fantasy (post 10), and Driven by Success (post 12).

Mr. Fantasy is one of two 3-year-olds in the field along with Imperial Council, runner-up in the Gotham and Peter Pan. Sixteen 3-year-olds have won the Met Mile, with Honour and Glory, in 1996, the most recent.

Little change in Wednesday handle

Without Churchill Downs or Hollywood Park for horseplayers to bet on Wednesday, it stood to reason that Belmont Park would have seen a spike in handle. In reality, that was not the case as total all-sources handle on the races at Belmont on Wednesday was $7,264,332, about $8,000 less than the previous Wednesday when Churchill and Hollywood were operating.

Betting on Belmont's races at Churchill Downs on Wednesday was a mere $28,481, down 58 percent from the previous Wednesday when Churchill was running and patrons there bet $67,542 on Belmont.

A total of $368,804 was wagered on Belmont's races Wednesday from all sources in California, down about 14 percent from the previous Wednesday when California bettors wagered $428,762. Figures on what was bet on Belmont at Hollywood Park were not readily available.

Toner stakes winners on return trail

Sailor's Cap and Bold Hawk, graded stakes winners trained by Jimmy Toner, are on the comeback trail. One's return was expected, the other one's not so much.

Sailor's Cap, who won the Grade 3 Colonial Turf Cup last June, was given the winter off following a last-place finish in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby last Nov. 30. He has breezed three times, including a half-mile in 47.80 seconds on the Belmont turf last Sunday, and is being pointed to the Grade 3 Poker here on June 14.

Bold Hawk, who won the Grade 3 Hawthorne Derby in 2007, has not been out since finishing third in that year's Hollywood Derby. A gelding now 5 years old, Bold Hawk sustained a suspensory ligament injury in the Hollywood Derby, which necessitated surgery and forced him to miss his 4-year-old season. On May 11, Bold Hawk breezed three furlongs in 38.43 seconds over Belmont's main track.

"It's going to be a give and take," Toner said of Bold Hawk's potential return. "We'll have to see how he is after each breeze."

Toner said he has 12 2-year-olds in his barn this year, including La Cloche, a filly by Ghostzapper out of Toner's Grade 1-winning turf mare Memories of Silver, and Stormandaprayer, a Songandaprayer filly purchased for $110,000 at auction by noted chef and restaurateur Bobby Flay.

Lezcano staying in New York

Jockey Jose Lezcano initially came north from south Florida to ride at Monmouth Park this summer. But after getting off to such a strong start, he is staying in New York for the Belmont spring/summer meet.

Through the first 18 days of the meet, Lezcano had 17 winners, putting him in a three-way tie for the lead with Rajiv Maragh and Ramon Dominguez.

"Initially, the plan was to feel it out and see how it went and make our decision from there," said Jason Beides, Lezcano's agent. "It couldn't have gone any better then it did. He's ready. He fits in perfectly."

Wishful Tomcat rolls in Seaport Mac

Wishful Tomcat ($3.20) led from start to finish under Ramon Dominguez to take Friday's $66,950 Seaport Mac Stakes for New York-breds by 6 1/4 lengths. Stud Muffin, making his first start since last fall, rallied to get second, 2 1/2 lengths ahead of Joe Corrigan.

It was the seventh victory from 16 starts for Wishful Tomcat, a 4-year-old ridgling son of Tactical Cat owned by IEAH Stables and trained by Richard Dutrow Jr.

Wishful Tomcat covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:41.64.