Stuart Janney III's homebred AIR SUPPORT (Smart Strike), a troubled fourth behind Soldat (War Front) in the September 3 With Anticipation S. (G3) at Saratoga, gained revenge by upsetting that 3-5 favorite in Sunday's $147,500 Pilgrim S. (G3) at Belmont Park. With Rajiv Maragh aboard, the Shug McGaughey juvenile negotiated 1 1/16 miles on the yielding turf in 1:47 4/5 to enter calculations for the November 5 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf (G2).
Unlike the With Anticipation, where he was one of several compromised by a chain reaction of bumps at the start, Air Support got off to a clean start in the Pilgrim. In contrast, Soldat hit the gate as he broke inward. Both settled off the early pace. Air Support skimmed the hedge in fourth, three lengths off the pacesetter Dual Citizen (Proud Citizen) through slow splits of :25 4/5, :51 and 1:16. Soldat was positioned in fifth, just to the outside of Air Support.
Swinging into the stretch, Dual Citizen still held the lead, but the closers were on the way. Deciphering Dreams (Freud) was making eye-catching progress along the inside, while Air Support had angled out for running room, and Soldat was bearing down widest of all. Although Air Support and Soldat bumped as they offered their challenges, the two didn't lose any momentum as they battled down the stretch.
Air Support produced the smartest change of gear, ultimately pulling 1 1/2 lengths clear and returning $12, $4 and $2.70 as the 5-1 second choice.
"He felt really comfortable the whole time," Maragh said. "With a little give in the ground today, he handled it perfectly. He was basically floating over the turf course. All the way I felt like I had a lot of horsepower, and I was just waiting to unleash it, and when I asked him he just kicked on."
"As I said, (the course at Saratoga) was like a conveyor belt," McGaughey said of the With Anticipation, "and I thought he ran a good race, you know, he just couldn't catch up it was so speed-conducive. The winner that day (Soldat) showed he was a nice horse, he was second today, so not taking anything away there, but I thought if I got him back to Belmont, we'd catch a little bit fairer track and we obviously did.
"When we got towards the end I thought he was going on and pulling away the way I was hoping. If he comes out of it OK, why not (go to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf)? Unless somebody says no, we'll see."
Soldat gave way late but salvaged second by a head from Deciphering Dreams. The favorite furnished $2.20 and $2.10, completed the $22 exacta, and had trainer Kiaran McLaughlin thinking Breeders' Cup as well.
"You never know with this kind of ground how they're going to perform, and at least he performed well and handled it," McLaughlin said. "We'll probably continue on (to the Juvenile Turf)."
Deciphering Dreams paid $3.10 at 7-1 while finishing three lengths ahead of the 27-1 shot Favorite Hour (Tiznow). The trifecta totaled $86, and the 4-8-2-7 superfecta was good for $440.40. Liondrive (Lion Tamer), Dual Citizen and The Flying Whizzer (Spanish Steps) rounded out the order under the wire. Powhatan County (Fusaichi Pegasus) was scratched, along with the main-track-only entrant Running Tap (Tapit).
Air Support's first stakes win improved his record to 4-2-0-0, $127,100. The bay colt made his debut in a hot maiden at Belmont Park on July 15, but was always far back, was checked at the quarter-pole, and reported home a remote fifth to the well-regarded Sovereign Default (Northern Afleet) and eventual Hopeful S. (G1) runner-up Stay Thirsty (Bernardini). Air Support profited by switching to the turf, and stretching out to two turns, in a 1 1/16-mile maiden at Saratoga, where he prevailed in a photo-finish on August 13. After his problematic start in the With Anticipation, Air Support found himself well off the pace in fifth, and he could get no closer than fourth, beaten seven lengths by Soldat.
The Kentucky-bred is a half-brother to the stakes-placed pair of Perusal and Imagining, both by Dynaformer, as well as a weanling filly by Lemon Drop Kid. They are all out of the unraced Gaze (Danzig), who is a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 star and $2 million earner Coronado's Quest (Forty Niner), Grade 3 victor Warning Glance (Caveat) and multiple stakes scorer Military Look (Assault Landing). This is the family of Grade 1-winning millionaire Private Terms (Private Account). Air Support's fourth dam, Broodmare of the Year Shenanigans (Native Dancer), is famous for producing the ill-fated champion Ruffian (Reviewer) and Grade 2-winning sires Icecapade (Nearctic) and Buckfinder (Buckpasser).