Updated on 09/17/2011 10:35PM

Asi Siempre takes

Email
Bill Straus
Asi Siempre (inside) scores her first graded stakes victory in Friday's Grade 3, $125,000 Valley View Stakes at Keeneland.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Following an easy allowance victory by Asi Siempre at Keeneland on Oct. 7, trainer Patrick Biancone talked about starting Asi Siempre in the Grade 1 E.P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine. He later changed his mind, opting for more conservative placement in Friday's Grade 3, $125,000 Valley View Stakes at Keeneland.

Consider it a wise move. Asi Siempre ($2.80) scored her first graded stakes victory in the race, holding on to defeat the fast-closing Dynamite Lass by a nose in front of a crowd of 11,317.

Asi Siempre had to overcome an unfavorable draw to win. Stuck in post 1 over a rain-soaked course that appeared to favor outside paths, she was taken back to last by jockey Gary Stevens in an effort to get to the outside. Once there, he allowed her to advance into midpack down the backstretch - a move he said after the race might have been premature.

Although Asi Siempre was able to easily pick up the leaders coming into the stretch, her effort to catch up lessened her finishing kick and she had just enough to repel the onrushing Dynamite Lass.

Asi Siempre, who placed in the Grade 1 Garden City Breeders' Cup in September for owner Martin Schwartz, raced 1 1/16 miles on a yielding course in 1:45.57. Victory Lap finished 1 3/4 lengths behind the top pair in third.

Smith finally ends drought

This could never, ever be a bad year for Mike Smith. Even though Smith has mostly struggled to win wherever he has ridden, he still experienced the one shining moment that will always help define his Hall of Fame career: On May 7, he won the 131st Kentucky Derby aboard Giacomo.

Aside from his Derby triumph, however, Smith is having a decidedly sub-par year by his lofty standards. Through Thursday, he had won just 75 races and was on pace to have his lowest win total since he began his career in 1982 with 36 victories as an apprentice.

Smith had gone winless through the first nine days of Keeneland's fall meet until, finally, he was able to visit the winner's circle after guiding Character Builder to a front-running victory in the seventh race Thursday. By the end of the day, his totals for the meet stood at 1 win from 34 mounts.

"I was starting to wonder about what was going on, but I've been in this game long enough to know that if you keep riding hard, it's going to come," said Smith, who turned 40 in August. "I've had some horses that I thought would be all right, but for one reason or another things just weren't working out."

Smith's agent, Brad Pegram, said that despite modest numbers, Smith has maintained his customary positive outlook.

"Mike's got too much class to lash out and start blaming anybody else when everything's not going perfect," he said.

French Park gets big Beyer in debut

Helen Pitts's first year as a trainer only continues to get better. Less than a week after winning the Grade 1 Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup with Sweet Talker, Pitts picked up another Keeneland victory with a talented filly.

French Park, a 2-year-old daughter of Ecton Park, scored at first asking in the last race Thursday for Pitts, winning by 12 1/4 lengths under Mark Guidry. She ran quickly over the slow Keeneland main track, covering 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:18.51 and earning a 95 Beyer Speed Figure, easily the highest by a 2-year-old filly this meet.

French Park had been pointed toward a start in the spring, but bucked shins - a common but minor ailment for 2-year-olds - delayed her debut. She will be pointed to an allowance for her next start, Pitts said.

Sweet Talker, meanwhile, will start next in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs on Nov. 12.

Durban Thunder, one of Pitts's other top horses, is being aimed for a start at Churchill in a five-furlong overnight handicap on the turf on Nov. 6. Winner of the Kentucky Cup Turf Dash at Kentucky Downs, he faded to ninth in the Grade 1 Shadwell Mile earlier in the meet.

Kuerzi steps down at Ellis

Paul Kuerzi, who has served as vice president and general manager of Ellis Park since 1999, has announced plans to leave those positions at the financially troubled track later this year. In a press release issued from Churchill Downs, which owns Ellis Park, Kuerzi, 63, cited health concerns and a desire to spend more time with his family for his decision to retire. Churchill Downs has not named a successor.

* Jockey John McKee and trainer Bob Holthus teamed to win back-to-back races with longshots Friday, scoring with Lawyer Ron ($16.20) in the fifth and Journey Fever ($132.20) in the sixth.

- additional reporting by Marty McGee