When Air Support returns to Colonial Downs this week, he'll be back on a turf surface where he has helped lined the pockets of his owner Stuart Janney and trainer Shug McGaughey.
Nearly half of Air Support's healthy career winnings have come from two starts at Colonial Downs — $428,800 of his $932,959 earned came from a 2011 Virginia Derby win and a second-place finish in last year's Colonial Turf Cup.
He'll be one of the competitors Saturday in this year's $300,000 Colonial Turf Cup, a race that has regained its Grade II status for the first time since 2010. This year's eight-horse field, which also features Kentucky-breds Atigun and Swift Warrior, will cover 1 3/16 miles over Colonial Downs' Secretariat turf course.
Now, with Kentucky-bred Air Support checking in at the ripe-old racing age of five, his latest visit to New Kent makes Colonial Downs director of racing Tyler Picklesimer beam with pride about the track's decision to let more experienced horses run in the Colonial Turf Cup.
"It sort of reinforces what we did three years ago opening the Colonial Turf Cup up to older horses," said Picklesimer of Air Support, who has finished in the money in five of his last seven start and will open Saturday from the No. 6 post. "It lets us know that we did the right thing. Now, we've had some people that have come out here these last couple years that have seen this horse run. They look for him to come back, and hopefully we've built that name recognition with the local market.
"It's always nice to have that horse that you know. You've seen him run before. You know he likes the race course."
Air Support will try to continue what already has been a memorable year for McGaughey. The trainer won his first Kentucky Derby in May with Orb.
Prior to 2011, the Colonial Turf Cup was open only to 3 year olds, but the conditions were changed in '11 to allow 3-year-olds and older to race. In 2009 and '10, the race was a Grade II stakes race, but a race has to have the same conditions for at least two years to have graded status. The Colonial Turf Cup picked up its Grade II standing again this year.
Atigun, a 4-year-old trained by Ken McPeek, will start along the rail. Atigun is coming off a second-place finish May 25 in the Grade II Louisville Handicap at Churchill Downs. It was just his third start on turf in a 19-start career.
In addition to his recent success, Atigun finished third last year in the Belmont Stakes. He's finished in the money 10 times with four wins.
Hyper, another Kentucky-bred, will go from the No. 2 post. He's coming off a second-place finish in May in the Good Reward Stakes at Belmont Park. He's 6 years old and leads the field with eight wins in 18 career starts — 14 of which have featured finishes in the money.
Roadhog, a Pennsylvania-bred 6-year-old who will open in the No. 3 post, has more experience than any other horse in the field, with 23 starts, including 21 on turf. Roadhog, which won the Maryland Million Turf Stakes last October, is one of three stakes winners in the field, along with Air Support and Swift Warrior.
London Lane, a 6-year-old Maryland-bred, is set to start from the No. 4 post. He'll be ridden by Horacio Karamanos, who has won five thoroughbred meet riding championships at Colonial Downs.
Swift Warrior, who is a 5-year-old Kentucky-bred, won in January in the Grade III John B. Connally Turf Cup Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park and in February in the Grade III Tampa Bay Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. He'll go off from the No. 5 post Saturday.
General Logan, a 4-year-old gelding bred in Kentucky, will start from the No. 7 post. He boasts impressive connections with trainer Graham Motion, who trained 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, and jockey Edgar Prado, who won riding championships in 1997 and '98 at Colonial Downs and who is a member of the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame.
Two Notch Road, who finished third on June 9 in the Grade II Monmouth Stakes at Monmouth Park, is the only Virginia-bred horse in the race. He's a 6 year old who's back this year after a 2 1/2-year layoff due to a bowed tendon. He finished fourth in the 2010 Virginia Derby, and will start Saturday from the No. 8 post.