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Air Support Makes Name for Himself

Although he started his career on the dirt, Air Support has made an early name for himself running on the New York turf, earning a trip to the Breeders’ Cup courtesy of a workmanlike win in the Grade 3 Pilgrim at Belmont Park on October 3.


A son of Smart Strike out of the unraced Danzig mare Gaze, Air Support was bred by owner Stuart Janney, III, who said he thought the match could just as easily produce a talented dirt horse as a turf specialist.


“Smart Strike is an awfully good sire and he gets good grass horses,” said Janney. “With Gaze’s breeding, I think she might well have good grass horses, but also great runners on dirt.”


Gaze is out of Laughing Look, making her a half-sister to Coronado’s Quest, a multiple-graded stakes winner on dirt whose win record includes the 1998 Travers Stakes. She has produced two turf runners by Dynaformer, Perusal and Imaging, both of whom are stakes-placed on the grass in New York.


“I’ve always thought well of Gaze,” said Janney. “She had a very difficult production history when she first started out as a broodmare. With Dynaformer getting older, we were trying to find a top sire for a pretty good mare in order to get a dirt horse or a grass horse.”


Air Support debuted in a 5 ½-furlong maiden special weight race at Belmont on July 15, finishing fifth and convincing his connections that he might prefer turf.


“I wanted to see how he’d do on dirt,” said the colt’s Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey. “When he was a young 2-year-old, we always kind of liked him. He’s got a good pedigree being by Smart Strike, and I probably thought he’d like the grass all along because his half-brother [Perusal] liked it.”


After an impressive work on the Saratoga turf on July 28, McGaughey sent Air Support to make his second start in a 1 1/8-mile turf maiden on August 13, which he won by a nose after a stalking trip.


“Shug called me after he worked on the turf and said ‘This horse is really a different horse on grass than on turf,’” said Janney. “His first win was very close, and I thought he ran a very courageous race.”


“He was still a little bit green when he broke his maiden,” McGaughey added. “He chased a pretty hot pace, but he was able to win – when the other horses came to him, he went on again.”


Off that victory, Air Support started next in the Grade 3 With Anticipation on closing weekend at Saratoga, piloted by Rajiv Maragh to a fourth-place finish behind Soldat, who is also Breeders’ Cup bound.


“I thought his race there was decent, the turf was like a conveyor belt and Rajiv came back and said ‘Man, he really tried, we just couldn’t catch up, they weren’t coming back,’” McGaughey said. “So I felt right after that race that the turf at Belmont would play to his liking a little bit better.”


Exactly one month later on October 3, Air Support turned the tables on Soldat, drawing clear in the lane to win the Grade 3 Pilgrim over yielding ground, which guaranteed him a starting berth in the one-mile Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf on November 6. On Wednesday, he breezed four furlongs over the main track at Belmont Park in 48.42 and is scheduled to depart for Louisville today.


“Being a 2-year-old, I’d rather get him in there and let him get settled because there will be so much activity,” McGaughey said. “[With an older horse] you kind of know what you’ve got, with a 2-year-old, sometimes you don’t know what you’ve got. When I took Storm Flag Flying to Chicago [for the 2002 Juvenile Fillies, a race she won en route to Champion 2-year-old filly honors], we went in kind of on top of the race. I galloped her in the morning, early, and then when she ran that afternoon, with all the signs and the stands and everything, she was looking at everything.


“He’s still a little bit immature,” McGaughey continued. “I think he’s done very well and I think that he deserves a chance to run in there. I still think his future is in front of him.”


Janney – who bypassed the frequently used financial and mining references when naming the son of Smart Strike reasoning that “a smart strike might also be an air attack" – is thrilled to send a homebred to the championship series.


“I love that he’s a homebred,” said Janney, who has longstanding ties to the horse’s family. His parents campaigned the champion filly Ruffian, sired by Reviewer, a son of Bold Ruler, as well as her older sibling, Laughter, a daughter of Bold Ruler and the dam of Laughing Look. “It adds a little extra dimension. I’ve got an awful lot in this family and it would be terrific to see it prosper.”



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