Airoforce the one to beat in Dueling Grounds Derby

Profile Picture: James Scully

September 8th, 2016

Little went right for Airoforce earlier in the season but the multiple graded stakes winner appears back on track following a nose second in the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2) at Saratoga on August 5. The gray colt is eligible to regain his winning ways in Sunday’s $350,000 Dueling Grounds Derby at Kentucky Downs.

Tabbed as the 9-5 morning line favorite among a dozen 3-year-olds, Airoforce is the lone entrant with a victory over the unique turf course, breaking his maiden first-time out by a widening 3 ¼-length margin last September. The Mark Casse-trained son of Colonel John went on to capture the Bourbon (G3) and finish a neck second in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1) before concluding 2015 with a rallying score in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) over a sloppy main track.

Airoforce began this year on the Kentucky Derby trail before being re-routed to turf events. He brings improving form into the 1 5/16-mile affair and Julien Leparoux retains the mount.

Oscar Nominated is a top challenger for conditioner Mike Maker. A listed stakes winner on Fair Grounds’ turf in February, the Kitten’s Joy colt earned a Kentucky Derby bid with a 23-1 upset in the Spiral (G3) on Turfway Park’s Polytrack next time out. He didn’t fire at Churchill Downs, winding up 17th in the 20-horse field, and Oscar Nominated returned to turf shortly afterward. Runner-up in the American Derby (G3) two back, the chestnut exits a closing fifth in the Secretariat (G1) in which he was beaten only 1 ½ lengths.

Florent Geroux picks up the assignment and Oscar Nominated is listed as the 9-2 second choice.

Manitoulin invades from New York for Jimmy Toner. By Awesome Again and out of the champion turf mare Soaring Softly, the chestnut will be making his stakes debut and adds a top local rider in Corey Lanerie. California shippers Little Scotty and Path of David also merit respect for trainers Neil Drysdale and Kristin Mulhall, respectively.

Sophomore fillies are spotlighted in the $200,000 Dueling Grounds Oaks at the same 1 5/16-mile trip. The 14-horse field includes a pair of also-eligibles and Outsider Art has been installed as the early 3-1 favorite. Third in the Lake George (G2) two back, the Jonathon Sheppard-trained lass exits a fifth against better in the Lake Placid (G2) at Saratoga.

Try Your Luck, disqualified after finishing first in the Pucker Up (G3) last out, is a threat for Maker and stakes-placed Taralena figures to draw support for Christophe Clement.

Airoforce photo courtesy of Coady Photography

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