01/02/2008 12:00AM

Asmussen closes banner year

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NEW ORLEANS - Steve Asmussen sealed his victory in the national trainers' race for 2007 in fine style Monday, winning the Louisiana Futurity and finishing with 488 victories for the year, three more than runner-up Scott Lake.

"I'm delighted about it," Asmussen said. "It takes the whole barn to do it. It's quite an impressive thing. We had three more than Mr. Lake, who had a great year. Congratulations to him."

On his way to the trainer title, Asmussen compiled another outstanding year, training Curlin to his likely Horse of the Year honors while winning titles at Churchill and Oaklawn. Six weeks into the Fair Grounds season, he led all trainers in wins, with 31 entering Friday, and has won 8 of the 24 stakes at the meet.

As for Curlin, his training schedule will accelerate a bit, said Asmussen, who is still waiting on word from his owners whether the horse will run this year or be retired to stud.

His weekly regimen of two-minute licks will continue, with the pace increasing. And those interested in watching the big horse train in the mornings will have to get there sooner, as Asmussen said he plans to begin to train Curlin earlier, giving the horse more time to unwind.

"He's 100 percent," Asmussen said. "The same old Curlin attitude - a wonderful horse."

Asmussen put a clock to Curlin's two-minute lick on Monday and caught him in 57.80 seconds for a half-mile. He has planned another two-minute lick for Sunday, and said he will ask Curlin to go a half in 54 seconds.

Mouton firster wins Futurity division

Patrick Mouton continued his climb up the trainers' standings, winning Monday's Louisiana Futurity fillies division with first-time starter Very Sexcessful, who went wire to wire in a field of 13, running six furlongs in 1:11:57.

"We've been getting her ready since midsummer," Mouton said. "We passed on a few maiden races that I think she could have won. The farther we got along, the better I found out she was."

The winner's share of the purse was $67,761, and Very Sexcessful paid $19.60 to win. That relatively short price on a first-time starter in a stakes race is a credit to Mouton's reputation in the world of Louisiana-breds.

"I guess people looked at the race and said, 'This idiot is going to run a first-time starter,' and then decided to bet her," Mouton said.

Mouton is undecided on the next race for Very Sexcessful, though possibilities include first-level allowance races and the Feb. 16 Happy Ticket Stakes.

Entering Friday's races, Mouton was third in the trainers' standings, having saddled 17 winners from 80 starters.

With 76 horses on the premises, more than any other trainer, Mouton's only complaint is that he can't find enough races for all the horses he wants to run.

"I'd like to run three or four a day," he said. "But I'm tickled pink with the start."

Familiar names in Dixie Poker Ace

The usual gang is all in as 11 horses were entered in Saturday's Dixie Poker Ace, for Louisiana-breds going about a mile on the turf. Nine of the 11 entrants raced in stakes races on Dec. 8, Louisiana Champions Day.

The first six from the Louisiana Turf Stakes return, including Willist, Wild Rally, and Desert Wheat, who finished first, second, and third.

Coming back from the Louisiana Classic, won by Costa Rising by more than 15 lengths, are two Steve Assmussen trainees: Hallway, who finished second, and Lash, who was another two lengths back in third.

Martin escapes serious injury

Eddie Martin Jr. emerged from a starting gate mishap Tuesday feeling lucky to be only bruised.

In the sixth race, Martin was aboard Agere in the starting gate. As the other horses were being loaded, his mount reared back on his hind legs, catapulting Martin out of the gate and onto the pin used to close the starting gate.

Martin was carried on a stretcher to the ambulance, but stayed in the nurse's station until he felt well enough to walk. He was replaced on his mounts for the rest of the card.

His agent, Mike Diliberto, saw Martin at his home icing the bruises on Tuesday evening. Martin assured Diliberto that he will be ready to ride when racing resumes Friday.