09/24/2008 11:00PM

Smooth Air using Needles as prep for BC Classic


MIAMI - It's safe to say Calder's Needles Stakes has never been thought of as a Breeders' Cup prep, let alone a potential prep for the Breeders' Cup Classic. But that could be the case Saturday when Smooth Air uses the 1 1/16-mile Needles as a possible stepping-stone to the Classic on Oct. 25.

Although the $100,000 Needles could turn out to be a Breeders' Cup prep, Saturday's card is better known as the Festival of the Sun Preview, featuring four stakes to be used as prep races for the rich Festival of the Sun program here Oct. 18. The Needles will be supported by its filly and mare counterpart, the $100,000 Judy's Red Shoes, along with the Foolish Pleasure and Brave Raj, a pair of $90,000 stakes for 2-year-olds.

Smooth Air burst onto the national scene with his victory last winter in Gulfstream Park's Grade 2 Hutcheson Stakes and second-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. After finishing a troubled 11th in the Kentucky Derby, Smooth Air bounced back to win the Grade 2 Ohio Derby before foot issues forced him to the sidelines for several months. Smooth Air finally returned to action with a third-place finish in the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby.

The Needles will mark Smooth Air's debut on grass, a fact that does not seem to concern trainer Bennie Stutts Jr.

"He worked on turf and looked like he handled it okay," said Stutts who trains Smooth Air for Brian Burns's Mount Joy Stables. "He's handled slop, mud, everything he's been on so far, so I would be surprised if he doesn't also fire on the grass."

Stutts said running in the Needles was predicated on his owner's desire to run Smooth Air in the Breeders' Cup.

"Once Brian said he wanted to go to the Breeders' Cup, I decided letting Smooth Air run his final prep out of his own stall would be best," Stutts explained. "The timing of this race is also perfect because it gives us four weeks until Breeders' Cup Day."

Smooth Air will carry 119 pounds under the allowance conditions of the event, including regular rider Manoel Cruz.

Several of Smooth Air's seven rivals in the Needles have already proven their mettle on grass, most notably Tour Ireland, runner-up to Sporting Art in the Grade 3 Calder Derby earlier this year, as well as turf stakes winner Dynhocracy.

The remainder of the field is Cigar Man, Atlantic Paws, Joey the Scholar, Dream Maestro, and Wise Answer.

Smooth Air isn't the only Grade 2 winner who will compete on the Festival of the Sun Preview card, although trainer Marty Wolfson has no Breeders' Cup aspirations for Shes All Eltish, who will be favored to win the 1 1/16-mile Judy's Red Shoes.

Shes All Eltish captured the Grade 2 Bonnie Miss by nearly seven lengths over Gulfstream Park's main track earlier this year. She also was second in Pimlico's Black-Eyed Susan and third behind Proud Spell in the Grade 2 Delaware Oaks on July 12. The versatile filly has 1 victory from 4 starts on grass.

"She was a little worn out from all the travelling after the Oaks, so I gave her a little time off," Wolfson said. "Although she's probably a better horse on dirt than turf, she can handle grass, and I'm hopeful her class will carry her in this race."

Wolfson also has entered Joffe's Run in the Judy's Red Shoes. Joffe's Run has won 3 of her last 4 starts, including a pair of stakes, all on the main track, but she did win her maiden over turf last fall in England.

Other key contenders in the Judy's Red Shoes include Ashley River, Phaleonopsis, Glotona, and Malitzin.

The one mile and-70-yard Foolish Pleasure serves as a major prep for the In Reality division of the Florida Stallion Stakes on Festival of the Sun Day. The Foolish Pleasure winner has captured the last three renewals of the In Reality.

This year's Foolish Pleasure features a rematch between This Ones for Phil and March Twelth, first and second in the one-mile Seacliff on Sept. 6. Stately Character, a late-running third in the Seacliff, and turf stakes winner Code Runner are among the other key contenders.

La Chica Sensual, narrowly defeated by longshot Aroma de Mujer as the 3-5 favorite in the seven-furlong Susan's Girl Stakes, will attempt to make amends when stretched out around two turns for the first time in the one mile and 70-yard Brave Raj. The Brave Raj is a prep for the $400,000 My Dear Girl on Oct. 18.