After displaying excellent turf form in his first three starts, Airoforce had no difficulty moving to a sloppy Churchill Downs main track in Saturday’s $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). The 2-year-old son of Colonel John rallied to the lead in midstretch and drew away to a 1 ¾-length score, earning his first 10 points toward a berth in the 2016 Kentucky Derby in the qualifying race.
Trained by Mark Casse and ridden by Julien Leparoux, Airoforce has now earned $516,080. He opened his career with a pair of easy wins, taking a maiden special weight at Kentucky Downs in early September before rolling to a 2 ½-length decision in the October 4 Bourbon Stakes (G3) at Keeneland. The gray colt was exiting a neck second in the October 30 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1), rallying furiously to just miss behind a well-regarded rival from overseas.
In the Kentucky Jockey Club, Airoforce settled in midpack among 13 rivals before advancing into consideration on the far turn. He swung wide into the stretch, collaring Mor Spirit and Gun Runner with about a sixteenth of a mile remaining, and finished powerfully to complete the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:45.48.
Off as the 7-2 second choice, Airoforce paid $9 to win.
“He was always one of our better horses and we knew that he liked the dirt and it was just a matter of getting him on it when the time was right and tonight was the best time to do it,” said Norman Casse, the chief assistant who manages his father Mark’s Kentucky division. “I thought this was a tough race this year. I’m excited about the way he ran.”
“He’s good on anything; we’ll just have to see on the fast track how good he’s going to be,” Leparoux added. “Today, even though we won on the dirt, it was kind of a sloppy track. We still have some questions to answer, to be honest, but every time you ask him he always does his best. “
Mor Spirit, who was favored at 2-1 off a maiden special weight victory at Santa Anita for four-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Bob Baffert, grabbed four points after gamely saving second by a head over the fast-closing Mo Tom. Winner of the November 1 Street Sense at Churchill Downs, Mo Tom picked up two points despite being overlooked at 16-1. It was another 1 ½ lengths back to Gun Runner, who garnered one point for the fourth-place effort.
Annual Report, My Majestic Flight, Perfect Saint, Tom’s Ready, Rated R Superstar, Nana Looch, Derby Express, Force It and Uncle Jerry completed the order of finish.