Airoforce makes his season debut in the G2 $400,000 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Saturday as the 5-2 morning-line favorite and faces 12 others, including four sons of Uncle Mo and Rachel Alexandra’s half-brother Dolphus. But if he doesn’t win or take to the track like he did the dirt at Churchill Downs, he has a career ahead of him as a turf horse.
A winner of three of four starts with one second-place finish for earnings of $516,080, Airoforce started off with a debut win at 6F on turf at Kentucky Downs and followed that with a first-place finish in the G3 Dixiana Bourbon at 8.5F on turf. Next was a second to Hit It A Bomb in the G1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf at Keeneland over the same trip. Only then did he foray onto the main track, winning the G2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at 8.5F at Churchill, a track whose dirt surface has been friendly to quite a few turf or all-weather types through the years.
The Kentucky Jockey Club has been formful and has flattered the winner. The runner-up, Mor Spirit, subsequently won the G1 Los Alamitos Futurity last year, and more recently accounted for the G3 Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita; and the third-place finisher, Mo Tom, won the G3 LeComte Stakes at Fair Grounds last month from the eighth-place runner, Tom’s Ready. Both Mo Tom, second choice at 3-1, and Tom’s Ready are in the Risen Star as well.
Airoforce was bred by Stewart M. Madison in Kentucky and is by the Tiznow horse Colonel John from Chocolate Pop, by Cuvee. He sold as a Fasig-Tipton October yearling from the Four Star consignment for $20,000 to Michael Neatherlin, who pinhooked him through Richardson Bloodstock, agent, at the 2015 OBS April sale for $350,000 — quite a lick! But the horse had improved in the six months between sales, from a somewhat immature colt to a developing athlete able to work :21 flat at the under-tack show at OBS. And by the time he’d won the Dixiana Bourbon last October, a year after selling at Fasig-Tipton, he’d furnished out quite nicely into a masculine racehorse.
Colonel John, the sire, raced during the all-weather years in California and won, among other races, the G1 Santa Anita Derby on synthetic, the G1 Travers at 10F on dirt, and the Wickerr Stakes at Del Mar on turf. He was versatile, and he’s passed this trait to his offspring. Altogether a winner of six of 15 starts and $1,779,012, Colonel John was sixth of 20 in the 2008 Derby behind Big Brown, too.
At stud at WinStar for $7,500, Colonel John has sired at least eight black type winners through his first three crops, and not surprisingly, they’ve won on dirt, turf, and all-weather, and they include the 3-year-old colts Cocked and Loaded — winner of the G3 Iroquois at Churchill Downs over 8.5F and the Tremont at 5.5F at Belmont — and Little Nick V. — first in the $100,000 Juvenile Turf Stakes at 8F at Gulfstream Park West — in addition to Airoforce.
Airoforce’s dam, stakes-placed Chocolate Pop, was purchased by Greathouse Bloodstock for $25,000 at the 2010 Keeneland November sale as a broodmare prospect. She traces tail-female to 7th dam Donut Queen, one of the first horses purchased by donut maker Verne Winchell, who had a tremendously successful career as an owner and breeder until his death in 2002 at age 87. Winchell bred all the dams from Donut Queen down to Airoforce’s 3rd dam, Cee Knows, a daughter of Known Fact. The latter is a turf influence, as is the sire of Airoforce’s 2nd dam, With Approval, and along with Colonel John, this forms quite a basis for Airforce’s proclivity for grass.
And how about this? Winchell also bred Airoforces’s broodmare sire, Cuvee, whose second dam, Carols Christmas, was a foundation mare for Winchell that is still paying dividends today to his heirs.