Airoforce ready for takeoff in Risen Star

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TwinSpires Staff

February 11th, 2016

Edited press release from Fair Grounds

By all accounts, John C. Oxley’s Airoforce has done little wrong in his career. A smashing winner on debut going six furlongs on the grass at Kentucky Downs in a sharp 1:10.34, the son of Colonel John was equally as dominant when winning the $250,000 Bourbon S. (G3) next out at Keeneland in his two-turn debut. The flashy colt was then nailed on the wire in a neck loss in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) 26 days later on October 30 and then was a clear victor in his main track debut when taking the $200,000 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs in late November over a sloppy and sealed surface.

Going into the $400,000 Risen Star S. (G2) on February 20, Airoforce looms as the deserving favorite in the 1 1/16-mile event. The Mark Casse trainee will try to kick off his sophomore season and Triple Crown trail successfully as he aims toward a return to Churchill Downs and the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 7.

“He’s doing tremendously,” Casse said. “I think he’s progressed (from 2 to 3 years old) and done well. He got a lot of racing in his 2-year-old year and his last race has turned out to be a pretty good race on form. He’s a neck away from being undefeated and we’re happy with him.

“We cranked him up in his last work, that’s for sure,” Casse continued. “In his first five eighths work (1:00.20 on January 31), he got a little tired and came out of it a little under the weather. He bounced back quickly and his second work (five furlongs in :59.60 on February 6) was really good. More importantly, he came out of that work on top of his game. We had turned the lights off for a while on him (to freshen him), but now they’re back on.”

While the gray colt has conquered much of what he has been asked to do, one thing he has yet to try is a fast dirt track, which he may encounter in the Risen Star. A winner on firm turf, yielding grass and the aforementioned sloppy course, the talented charge defeated Mor Spirit and Mo Tom in the Kentucky Jockey Club, who have since scored three graded stakes between them. Mo Tom is expected to be the Risen Star’s second choice on the merit of his open-length local victory in the $200,000 Lecomte S. (G3) on January 16. Mor Spirit, on the other hand, returned to California to take the $350,000 Los Alamitos Futurity (G1) in December and then kick off his 2016 season with a smart victory in the $150,000 Robert B. Lewis (G3) at Santa Anita last weekend.

“You never can tell if they’ll handle the (fast) dirt with works, but he has a dirt pedigree,” Casse said. “The only reason he originally ran on the turf was because the purse of the Kentucky Downs maiden was $120,000. Once he ran so well and broke his maiden it was hard to take him off the grass. After the Breeders’ Cup we wanted to find out how he would handle dirt and even though it was sloppy, you couldn’t ask him to do much more than he did that day. It should have worked to his disadvantage, but he took a lot of slop and still won.

“The timing of the Risen Star was good for him,” Casse continued. “It was too quick to run him in the ($250,000) Sam Davis ([G3] at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday), so we had options to either go to the Risen Star or run in the ($400,000) Fountain of Youth (G2) at Gulfstream Park (on February 27) and I would rather deal with (Mohaymen) on the first Saturday in May.”

Airoforce will fly in from South Florida next Thursday along with fellow Risen Star competitor Uncle Walter, as well as International Star, who is expected to start as the favorite in the $125,000 Mineshaft H. (G3). Both Uncle Walter – third in the Lecomte – and International Star are owned by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey and trained by Mike Maker.

Photo courtesy Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer Photography.