01/25/2006 1:00AM

Asmussen a bigger threat to Norman's reign


HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Juggling more than one training title at a time is nothing new for Steve Asmussen. As he took the lead in the Oaklawn Park standings Saturday with three winners on the card, including the $50,000 American Beauty with More Moonlight, he was just one day from picking up his sixth straight Fair Grounds title, this year at the abbreviated meet being run at Louisiana Downs.

Because that meet has ended earlier than usual, Asmussen will have a stronger presence this year at Oaklawn. The situation could put him in a position to win his first Oaklawn title, and Cole Norman, who is looking for his sixth straight local title, said earlier this month he knows he must beware of the "blue team" this season at Oaklawn.

Asmussen, whose stable colors are blue and white, won with 4 of 10 starters opening weekend. He said his number of local starts will pick up in the next month. During the Fair Grounds meet, his stable focused on taking down as much of the record $370,000 a day in purses as possible. His horses are now regrouping, and the barn did not have any starters for Friday at Oaklawn.

"Some won't show up here until the third or fourth week of this meet," said Asmussen.

Asmussen has 35 horses on the grounds, and more to pull from in the region. Last year, he won with 23 of 100 starters at Oaklawn to rank second in the standings to Norman, who won the title with 62 winners. Asmussen said he looks for his local numbers to increase in 2006.

"I do expect to win more races at this meet at Oaklawn than any other Oaklawn meet I've [raced at] previously," he said.

Asmussen, who also has racing divisions in Florida, New Mexico, and Texas, was the leading trainer by wins in North America in 2005. He said More Moonlight will go through the sprint series at Oaklawn. The next race for her division is the $50,000 Spring Fever on March 4.

Doocy eyes late-meet return

Jockey Tim Doocy, a two-time title winner at Oaklawn, said from his Hot Springs home Wednesday that he hopes to resume race riding late in the meet. Doocy last week had surgery on his urethra, which was injured as a result of a fractured pelvis he suffered in a gate accident at Prairie Meadows on July 21. The urethra carries urine from the bladder.

Doocy said his pelvis has fully healed, and he hopes to be back on horses in six weeks. "It's just one of those things," he said. "It could have been worse."

Doocy was injured when a 2-year-old filly reared in the gate and fell on him. A career-winner of more than 4,500 races, he is a multiple title winner at Prairie Meadows. His titles at Oaklawn came in 1998 and 1999.

Torres out with fractured vertebra

Jockey Francisco Torres, who was thrown from his mount in the sixth race Sunday, has been found to have a fracture in his C-6 vertebra, his agent, Lenny Pike, said Wednesday. Torres will be out three months and will wear a neck brace. He was at Oaklawn on Wednesday.

Torres's mount, 3-year-old maiden Ermine, appeared on her way to victory when she ducked in sharply nearing the wire.

Pike said Torres planned to stay in Hot Springs for about a month, then would head to his home in Kentucky.

"He wants to keep in contact with the trainers here," said Pike.

Torres was taken to St. Joseph's Mercy Health Center in Hot Springs after the spill and was released Tuesday. Because he had fractured a vertebra earlier in his career, he was kept overnight Sunday in order to be examined by a specialist Monday.

Albarado suspended seven days

Jockey Robby Albarado, who won three races last Friday at Oaklawn, is serving a seven-calendar-day suspension for a riding infraction stemming from the final race on the Fair Grounds card Saturday. He will be back riding at Oaklawn on Feb. 3, the first racing day following his suspension. Albarado was suspended from Jan. 23 through Jan. 29, according to officials with the Louisiana Racing Commission.

Albarado was given days after his mount, Big Time Cat, was disqualified from first to fifth for drifting in and bumping a rival.

Albarado had won five races on the Fair Grounds card leading up to Big Time Cat's start. He also had won with his last two mounts Friday at Oaklawn and his first three mounts Saturday at Louisiana Downs, giving him five consecutive wins between Friday and Saturday.

* Thunderdoll, a winner of four of six career starts, is among the top contenders in the second race, a one-mile allowance for fillies and mares that has a purse of $45,000. Others in the race include Platinum Ballet, who in her last start won the $125,000 Iowa Distaff Breeders' Cup.