04/05/2007 12:00AM

Asmussen babies good again


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Through the years, 4 1/2-furlong races for 2-year-olds at Keeneland have been the domain of a special few. Bwamazon Farm and trainer Tony Basile won baby races by the handfuls in the 1980s, and Overbrook Farm and trainer D. Wayne Lukas normally were the team to beat in those specialized events in the 1990s.

No one, however, has dominated 2-year-old races at Keeneland the way Steve Asmussen did a year ago. From 12 races at the 2006 spring meet, Asmussen sent out seven winners, a remarkable feat by any standard.

Scott Blasi, the longtime Asmussen assistant who spent the winter at Fair Grounds in New Orleans and recently accompanied a 40-horse string to Keeneland, said he and his boss are expecting big things again. At the 2007 spring meet, which began Friday, the Asmussen barn was represented in both baby races carded for opening weekend.

"We've got a great group of babies," said Blasi. "Hopefully they'll all stay healthy, and if they do, we feel like they'll run really well."

Besides its large string at Keeneland, the Asmussen stable also has another 36 horses at Churchill Downs, with Kristin Crawford the top assistant. Asmussen, who split his time mostly between New Orleans and Houston this winter, will be spending most of his time in Kentucky this spring.

The races, the first of the year for 2-year-olds in Kentucky, seem to excite the Keeneland crowd more than other type of race. They are the only races run out of the Headley Course chute, which adjoins the main track between the half-mile and three-eighths pole, and the action is frantic from flag fall to finish. Moreover, the races invariably draw first-time starters with promising pedigrees and sizzling workouts and thus always hold the promise of marking the debut of a future superstar.

Theriot willing to buck tough competition

The riding colony at Keeneland may be deeper than ever this spring. Virtually every top jockey in the country will ride here most of the meet, including Edgar Prado, Garrett Gomez, John Velazquez, Kent Desormeaux, Rafael Bejarano, Cornelio Velasquez, Javier Castellano, Shaun Bridgmohan, Fernando Jara, Julien Leparoux, Robby Albarado, Mark Guidry, and Rene Douglas.

Despite the highly formidable competition, jockey Jamie Theriot chose to move his tack and his family from Louisiana to Kentucky this spring. Theriot, 28, "wants to get his name out there during this meet," said agent Fred Aime. "Unlike a lot of the other riders who move on after the Kentucky Derby, Jamie's staying through the Churchill spring meet," which runs April 28 to July 8.

Theriot, who is distantly related to jockeys Calvin Borel, Larry Melancon, and the retired Hall of Famer Eddie Delahoussaye, was the leading rider at Oaklawn Park in 2003. He rode War Emblem before the colt was sold and won the 2002 Kentucky Derby for trainer Bob Baffert. Into Friday, Theriot's mounts had won 1,496 races and earned nearly $21.3 million.

* Live radio calls of the Keeneland feature race are available daily on the Horse Racing Radio Network, featuring Mike Penna and Pete Kules. For affiliate listings, broadcast times, and other information, log onto www.equineforum.net.

* Primarily to eliminate distractions in the weeks leading to the opening of its spring meet, Churchill has moved its simulcast operations during the Keeneland meet from its main plant to the old Trackside simulcast annex several miles away.