04/03/2008 12:00AM

Asmussen brings stable, attention


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - The arrival of trainer Steve Asmussen and his stable have been the buzz of the backstretch in the weeks leading up to the opening of the 2008 meeting here Saturday.

And, according to Asmussen, who was assigned 30 stalls, his decision to locate a division at Woodbine was based on one simple premise.

"The money," said Asmussen, when asked what he had found particularly attractive about the local program.

Asmussen, speaking from Oaklawn Park on Thursday, said his prospective Canadian forces were gathering at Keeneland and were scheduled to begin their journey to Woodbine as soon as Friday along with a few horses from his New York division.

"We have a couple of horses for the early stakes there," said Asmussen, who expects to have his full complement on the grounds by next weekend.

Meanwhile, Woodbine management welcomes the attention that an Asmussen division will bring to Woodbine.

"I think he'll be good for Canadian racing," said Steve Lym, Woodbine's racing secretary and director of racing. "I thought it was the right time to give him stalls and see what he has to offer us. He definitely starts a lot of horses."

Those sentiments were not evident in January 2007 when Asmussen applied for stalls here but was turned down.

"He was coming off a major suspension," said Lym, noting that Asmussen had just finished serving a six-month ban after being held accountable under the trainer responsibility rule for a Class 2 positive at Evangeline Downs.

"We have an in-house rule, for trainers returning from a Class 1 or Class 2 violation, that for six months their horses have to be under surveillance on the day of the race for five hours.

"That would have taken us into July and, at the time, we just weren't prepared to make that commitment."

While his Woodbine plans were temporarily on hold, Asmussen did have five starters here last year and left his mark on the local scene with Kodiak Kowboy, who won the Victoria and went on to take home the Sovereign Award as Canada's champion 2-year-old male.

Asmussen plans to be a frequent visitor, but one of his assistant trainers, Darren Fleming, will handle day-to-day operations here.

Fleming, 40, has been with Asmussen for a dozen years and his general beat has been the Midwest, although he was at Presque Isle Downs for that track's inaugural meeting last year. This winter, Fleming was at Fair Grounds and Sam Houston.

"It's a great facility, and Toronto seems like a great town," said Fleming, who was here to send out Chace City to victory in the 2006 Victoria. "I'm looking forward to being there."

The Asmussen troops will be housed in one of two barns that underwent extensive remodeling during the off-season, including new wash pad and office areas outside the widened shed rows, which have gabled ceilings and are bordered by sliding Plexiglas windows.

The modifications were part of a $2 million program, which also included roof improvements to two other barns and general barn touch-ups.

The Asmussen outfit will have a local flavor as trainer Vinnie Tesoro, 48, has been hired as stable foreman.

Tesoro's main claim to fame was Thunder Regent, who took him to the 1992 Breeders' Cup Mile at Gulfstream.

Thunder Regent finished 13th of 14 in the Mile, but, in what stands as Tesoro's enduring moment, he had fashioned a $91.50 upset over Dance Smartly in the Grade 3 King Edward here that June.

Cool Gator shipping in soon

Cool Gator, the winter-book favorite for this year's $1 million Queen's Plate, soon will be heading for Woodbine after finishing fifth in last Saturday's Grade 1 Florida Derby.

"I don't want to rush him back," said Danny Vella, who trains Cool Gator for owner/breeder Garland Williamson. "I don't like to ship right off a big race. I like to give them a few days to recover."

While Cool Gator was beaten 18 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby, he was just 5 1/2 lengths shy of third money and left seven rivals in his wake.

"He spread a shoe pretty bad; it almost fell off on the way back to the barn," Vella said. "It must have affected him.

"And, we wanted to try to stay a little close to the pace, but the pace was so fast that it threw us off our game."

Vella is looking at the Grade 3 Marine, a 1 1/16-mile race here May 17, and the Plate Trial, at 1 1/8 miles here June 1, as possible stakes stepping-stones for Cool Gator on his way to the June 22 Queen's Plate, a 1 1/4-mile race for Canadian-bred 3-year-olds.

Stuck in Traffic tops Achievement

The $150,000 Achievement, a six-furlong race for Ontario-sired 3-year-olds here next Saturday, will be the first Queen's Plate prep of the meeting.

Stuck in Traffic, the winner of the Vandal and Frost King stakes and a Sovereign Award finalist in his division last year, tops the prospective field for the Achievement, which attracted just 10 nominations.

Trained by Nick Gonzalez, Stuck in Traffic did not start over the winter but worked well at Gulfstream and checked back into Woodbine last Sunday night.

Jockeys face suspensions

Robert Landry and apprentice Matt Moore will be serving three-day suspensions Saturday, Sunday, and Friday, the first three days of the meeting.

Chantal Sutherland also was scheduled to sit out those days but has been granted a week's grace so she can ride at Santa Anita, where she has stakes calls for Saturday and Sunday.

Sutherland will wind up her winter campaign Monday and serve her suspension here on the April 11-13 cards.

Female riders to sign autographs

Female jockeys will be featured in an autograph-signing session here Saturday, with Emma-Jayne Wilson, Michelle Rainford, Stephanie Fedora, Melanie Pinto, and Melanie Giddings slated to be available from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the third floor.

Handicapper and author Jim Mazur also will be on hand here Saturday for a one-hour seminar beginning at 11 a.m. on the second floor.

Attendees will receive a free copy of "Woodbine Stakes Handicapper 2008," a new publication authored by Mazur and Woodbine handicapper and television host Jim Bannon.

Woodbine on television

"Woodbine Post Time" will be back on the air on Sun TV on Saturday with a two-hour show beginning at 2 p.m.

On Sunday, "Woodbine Racing Live" will return to The Score with a show running from 1 to 6 p.m. The Score will add live Wednesday evening telecasts from 7 to 10 p.m. when the meeting expands to four days a week on April 30.