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Met Mile gives Stutts, Smooth Air another Dream to Chase

ELMONT, N.Y. – Mine That Bird’s Kentucky Derby victory once again gave racing fans reason to believe that dreams do come true -- sometimes, at 50-1.

Bennie Stutts Jr. knows that dream well. In 2008, the Calder-based trainer sent Smooth Air to the Kentucky Derby. Although the Smooth Jazz colt finished 11th at 42-1 after a dismal trip, he went right back to business and won three of his next six starts, including Grade 2 victories in the Ohio Derby and the Gulfstream Park Handicap.

Now four years old, Smooth Air has brought Stutts and his wife, Diane, to New York where he will be the starting highweight at 118 pounds against 12 others, including three-yea-olds Mr. Fantasy and Imperial Council, in Monday’s Memorial Day feature, the 116th running of the Grade 1, $600,000 Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap. The 11-race card will begin at 1 p.m., with the post time for the “Met Mile” at 5:49 p.m. (race 10).

Mr. Fantasy, winner of three of four starts, including the Grade 3 Withers on April 25, and Imperial Council, runner-up in the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 2, both come off the Triple Crown trail in their first start against older horses. Mr. Fantasy will carry 109 pounds, while Imperial Council will get in with 108 pounds.

The “Met Mile” has given the 71-year-old Stutts another dream.

“This will be the eighth racetrack that Smooth Air has raced at,” said Stutts, whose after-dinner ritual is to visit Smooth Air and give him two mints and a big kiss. “He brought us from coast to coast, and now he’s brought us to New York. His owners (Mount Joy Stable) want to increase his value as a stallion, and they believe that he needs to win a Grade 1 like the Met Mile. This race is one that we’ve been looking at for a long time.”

Getting Smooth Air to this point, however, has not been easy. After running seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita last October, Smooth Air was given time to rest. He returned on the turf at Gulfstream, where he was caught late. Off that race, he won the Gulfstream Park Handicap and Stutts aimed him to Grade 3 Texas Mile on April 25 at Lone Star.

“The race in California was tough on his feet; he didn’t like that synthetic track,” Stutts said. “So we gave him time and brought him back the right way. The race in Texas seemed perfect for him: it was a $300,000 race and everyone picked him on top. But two days before the race, he got the colic. We were lucky that there was a hospital close by and he didn’t need surgery. But he had a bad bellyache and it was pretty scary. So, that turned out to be a wasted trip, but we have healthy horse now and he’s a fit horse.”

Smooth Air breezed five furlongs at Calder on Monday in 1:02.40, breezing, and then shipped to New York. A respected horseman, Stutts will bring Smooth Air out early Friday morning, walk him through the paddock, school and then send him out for a two-minute lick on the main track. Jockey Paco Lopez, who has appealed a suspension, will ride him on Monday.

Fourth in the Gulfstream Park Handicap, Marc Keller’s Bribon (FR) rebounded to win the Grade 3 Westchester here on the Opening Day of the Spring/Summer meet on April 29. The 6-year-old Mark of Esteem gelding couldn’t be doing any better, according to trainer Bobby Ribaudo.

“In the back of our minds is his reputation for not being able to put two big races back to back,” Ribaudo said. “But he really is doing very well, and this is a race that you have to run in if you have the horse. Smooth Air is a very nice horse, but I think Bribon is the horse to beat if he runs his race. Smooth Air had the home court advantage on us in Florida; maybe we have the home court advantage here.

“More than anything else, he needs a real pace. The Westchester set up perfectly for him. There should be a big field on Monday, and usually in a big field, there is plenty of speed. We should be okay.”

Jockey Alan Garcia has a repeat call on Bribon.

Stretching out to a mile after running third in the Grade 1, seven-furlong Carter Handicap at Aqueduct on April 4 is Repole Stable’s Drive by Success.. The New York-bred son of Precise End has yet to win in open company.

Let’s Go Stable’s Ready’s Echo was third in the Belmont Stakes last year and ended a five-race losing streak on April 18. Mr. Fantasy has won three of four starts, including the Grade 3 Withers on April 25. This will be his first start against older horses. Mr. Sidney won the Grade 1 Maker’s Mark on a yielding turf at Keeneland on April10.

Accredit, My Pal Charlie, Imperial Council, Famous Patriot, Runforthedoe (BRZ), The Roundhouse and Riley Tucker complete the field.

The field for Monday’s 116th running of the Shadwell Metropolitan Handicap:


1. Accredit Michael Maker Eibar Coa 116

2. Smooth Air Bennie Stutts Jr. Paco Lopez 118

3. Famous Patriot Tim Hills Javier Castellano 114

4. Imperial Council Shug McGaughey Raymundo Fuentes 108

5. Riley Tucker Bob Baffert Jose Lezcano 114

6. The Roundhouse Todd Pletcher Edgar Prado 114

7. Ready’s Echo Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 114

8. Mr. Sidney Bill Mott Kent Desormeaux 115

9. My Pal Charlie Albert Stall Jr. Cornelio Velasquez 117

10. Mr. Fantasy Kiaran McLaughlin Mike Luzzi 109

11. Bribon (Fr) Robert Ribaudo Alan Garcia 117

12. Driven By Success Bruce Levine Ramon Dominguez 113

13. Runforthedoe (BRZ) Paulo Lobo Rajiv March 114


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