Smooth Air sticks around for Salvator

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Trainer Chad Brown and Smooth Air are in the getting-acquainted stage.

"We are still getting to know him," Brown said.

Trained throughout his career by Bennie Stutts Jr., Smooth Air was transferred to Brown following his second-place finish in the Grade 1 Met Mile at Belmont Park on May 25.

Smooth Air will be one of top choices Saturday in the Grade 3, $250,000 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. The Salvator is a Win and You're In race, guaranteeing the winner a berth in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

Smooth Air, 4, has won 6 of 15 career starts, including three Grade 2 stakes, the Hutcheson and the Ohio Derby in 2008 and the Gulfstream Park Handicap this March. After taking the one-mile Gulfstream Park Handicap, Smooth Air was second to Bribon in the Met Mile, which put him over the million-dollar mark in earnings. Owner Brian Burns decided after the race to keep the horse in New York rather than send him back to Florida with Stutts.

"He ran out of our barn for the Met Mile and he just stayed here after the race," said Brown, a former assistant to Bobby Frankel. "He seemed to come out of the race fine."

Smooth Air finished seventh last October in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic. The recent one-mile efforts do not mean he will be permanently shortened up.

"This seems like a good distance for him," Brown said. "I don't think he's limited to one mile, by any means."

Paco Lopez has the return call.

The Salvator drew a competitive field of eight, including Two Step Salsa, third-place finisher in last year's Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He was purchased by Godolphin Racing after that and wintered in Dubai, where he won the Grade 2 Godolphin Mile.

In his U.S. return, Two Step Salsa finished fourth in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at six furlongs, keeping company with top-class sprinters Fabulous Strike and Benny the Bull.

"We planned on running him in the Met Mile but he got sick under quarantine," said assistant trainer Rick Mettee. "We decided instead to get a run into him in the True North and we're glad we did. It should help him going into this race."

Other top runners include Coal Play, pacesetting runner-up to Big Brown in last year's Haskell Invitational; Solar Flare, dazzling winner of the Frisk Me Now Stakes with a 111 Beyer Speed Figure; and Kiss the Kid, a multiple graded stakes winner on turf.