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Asmussen coming out firing
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - It won't take long for trainer Steve Asmussen to know how good of a Saratoga meet he is going to have this year. And it will have nothing to do with Rachel Alexandra.
Asmussen sends out two major contenders in both the Schuylerville and Sanford, the first two graded stakes of the meet. On Wednesday, he also sends out first-time starters Magic Tiger and Macjoey in maiden races, and on Thursday, he'll start the second-time starter Kinsey.
"We'll find out right away won't we?" Asmussen said Wednesday morning. "By Friday morning, we'll know exactly how the 2-year-old crop is."
Last year, Asmussen's 2-year-old crop was extremely strong as he went 8 for 30 with juveniles at the meet. Overall, Asmussen won 10 races at the 2008 Saratoga meet, capped of course by Horse of the Year Curlin's victory in the Woodward.
This year, the star of Asmussen's barn is the 3-year-old filly Rachel Alexandra, who may or may not run here. So, it may be up to the 2-year-olds to carry the load.
In Wednesday's Grade 3 Schuylerville, a race he won last year with Jardin, Asmussen sends out Hot Dixie Chick, who set a track record for five furlongs at Churchill Downs in her second start, and Kinsolving, who has lost two stakes after winning her debut at Keeneland.
"She's tremendously laid back," Asmussen said of Hot Dixie Chick. "Off of her first race and how much she showed and as quiet as she'd been to that point, you were extremely excited to run her back. She's still coming. She's fast but she's still got some coming to do."
Kinsolving finished third to Schuylerville hopeful Decelerator in the Grade 3 Debutante. Asmussen said Kinsolving was compromised in that race by stumbling at the start.
On Thursday, in the Grade 2 Sanford, Asmussen sends out Enumerate, a five-length debut winner, and Louisvilleluminary, a second-out winner. Louisvilleluminary is a half-brother to the Grade 1 winner Purge, who won the Jim Dandy here in 2004.
Speaking of the Jim Dandy, Asmussen will send out Dwyer winner Kensei in this year's Jim Dandy, to be run Saturday. On Monday, Kensei looked awfully strong working four furlongs in 48.70 seconds, getting his last quarter in 23.90 over the training track.
"I love how he's training," Asmussen said. "You'd watch him work at Churchill and said if that son of a [gun] ain't a runner who is?"
Not all of Asmussen's fortunes will be decided in the opening week. Later in the meet, he has the 2-year-old filly Dashing Debby to run in the Adirondack and the 2-year-old colt Thiskyhasnolimit for the Saratoga Special. He also will run the 3-year-old Heart Ashley in the Grade 1 Test on Aug. 8.
Pyro returns in James Marvin
One of Asmussen's former charges, Pyro, returns to the races in the $80,000 James Marvin Stakes at seven furlongs. Though an overnight stakes, this race shapes up like a Grade 2 event.
Pyro, a three-time graded stakes winner, has not been out since finishing sixth of 12 in the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile. He was taken over by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum's Godolphin Stable - which had purchased an interest in him after his 2-year-old season - and following knee surgery last year he was put back into training. According to Rick Mettee, who oversees Godolphin's New York string, the idea in bringing Pyro back is to make him a Grade 1 winner in either the Forego or Cigar Mile.
As far as this race goes, Mettee is hoping Pyro will "run on and pass horses, but this race came up a pretty hot race."
Riley Tucker, second to Munnings in the Tom Fool, is the horse to beat. But the race also features stakes winners Honour Devil and Finallymadeit. Finallymadeit is now in the barn of Tim Ritvo, who said that this race could be used as a prep for the Whitney on Aug. 8 or the Forego Sept. 5.
"We're using it as a prep instead of breezing him," said Ritvo.
Handicapping angle: Mott on his birthday
If you see Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott at the track on opening day, wish him a happy 56th birthday. Then go to the window and bet his horses.
Eight times since 1994, Mott has won a race here on his birthday, including 2006 and 2007. Last year, July 29 was a dark day.
On Wednesday, Mott has four horses entered on the card, though two need to draw in from the also-eligible list in order to run. Auteur, who is entered in the first, and Evolutionist, entered in the fourth, each need one scratch to get into the field. But both are live if they do get in.
"They're both coming off very good races, they're the right kind of horses to have," Mott said. "Certainly, they're horses in with a chance."
Mott also has a pair of 2-year-olds entered on the card. In the fifth, for New York-breds, Mott sends out Come From Behind, who finished fourth in his debut.
"He ran well enough," Mott said. "You got to believe he's got some kind of a chance."
In the seventh, Mott sends out the first-time starter Antenna, a half-brother to six winners. He is coupled with Double Partner, a colt trained by Todd Pletcher whose mother is a half-sister to Serena's Song.
Bridgmohan gets back on horses
Jockey Shaun Bridgmohan on Monday morning got on horses for the first time since he was injured in a spill during training hours at Churchill Downs on July 7. Bridgmohan worked the 3-year-old Sunday Sunrise for trainer Steve Asmussen. Sunday Sunrise is being pointed to Saturday's West Virginia Derby where he'll face Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird.
Bridgmohan suffered a compressed vertebra and a concussion when he was thrown from a horse he was working for Asmussen that broke down at Churchill Downs on July 7.
Bridgmohan, 30, said "everything seems fine" and he could be riding as early as this weekend, which would be slightly ahead of schedule.
"I thought I'd come back in the middle of the meet," he said.
Bridgmohan won 41 races at the Churchill meet, good for fifth place in the standings. Last summer, he won 13 races at Saratoga.
* Warrior's Reward, the beaten favorite in the Dwyer, worked a solid five furlongs in 1:01.99 over Saratoga's main track in preparation for Saturday's Jim Dandy. Warrior's Reward got his last three furlongs in 36.19 seconds. Calvin Borel was aboard for the move.
* Cowboy Cal worked four furlongs in 47.56 over the main track in preparation for Friday's Grade 2, $150,000 Fourstardave Handicap.
* Suburban winner Dry Martini worked four furlongs in 48.20 on Monday over the main track as he prepares for the Grade 1 Whitney here on Aug. 8.