03/04/2009 1:00AM

Asmussen expects 'slower' month


Go back one year, and you'll find Steve Asmussen in the midst of an epic Fair Grounds meet. Asmussen won far more stakes races than any trainer previously had in one Fair Grounds season, and he accumulated a whopping 86 wins by meet's end.

Quietly, Asmussen has been at it again this year, racking up huge numbers despite running well behind his 2007-08 totals during the first half of this Fair Grounds season. While his stakes wins are down, Asmussen had won 71 races through Sunday, and that with 15 race days left in the ongoing meet.

"That just seems crazy, especially considering where we were not that long ago," Asmussen said. "What happened was I had a fabulous month of February. We've won 26 races the last 20 race days."

Asmussen, however, doesn't see his stable topping last year's win total.

"We won all those [allowance] conditions, so those are gone now," he said. "It'll be slower this month than the last two."

Slower, of course, is a relative term, and the Asmussen barn figures to be hopping next Saturday, with horses to run in several stakes on Louisiana Derby Day, including two in the Louisiana Derby itself. Asmussen said Uno Mas and Soul Warrior remain on course to start in that race, but he will have just one horse, Four Oaks, for the Fair Grounds Oaks, with 3-year-old filly Hightap instead heading to Oaklawn for the Honeybee Stakes. Asmussen also has Sok Sok for the Duncan Kenner, a dirt sprint, and Classify for the Bienville, a turf sprint.

Uno Mas and Soul Warrior worked together Monday morning, going six furlongs in 1:14.80.

"They're different personalities, but they're good company for each other," Asmussen said.

Uno Mas finished third in the Risen Star Stakes last month and reminds Asmussen of sturdy 3-year-olds in his barn who have had success in Fair Grounds stakes races in years past.

"I think we've had a lot of luck with Uno Mas types that have stayed in that rhythm and have steadily progressed," said Asmussen, mentioning Fifty Stars and Easyfromthegitgo as comparable types. "He's set up to run well, but is he good enough? We don't know. Soul Warrior has a ton of talent, but he needs to focus."

Meanwhile, Asmussen said that promising unbeaten 3-year-old filly Auspicious was headed to Oaklawn for her stakes debut, which will come in the six-furlong Prima Donna Stakes on March 22. Asmussen said the La Troienne at Churchill in early May is the main near-term goal for Auspicious.

Torres returning to races Friday

Cisco Torres, who was the surprise leading rider at Fair Grounds when he was forced to the sidelines by injury in December, is set to make his comeback in Friday's first race.

Torres had won with 30 of 206 mounts at the meet when a filly he was working collapsed on the track one morning about three months ago. Initial X-rays showed no broken bones, but Torres sought a second opinion and was diagnosed with a broken right clavicle. But problems actually ran deeper. Torres was found to have fractured his left shoulder, and an examination of his knee revealed a torn meniscus. The clavicle and the shoulder only required rest, but Torres had surgery to repair his knee.

"I was supposed to be back to work about two weeks ago," Torres said. "But I went from my knee surgery to getting on horses too soon and had a minor setback. But now everything is great. I feel like a new person."

Torres said he suppressed what might have been sharp disappointment at getting hurt while his business was so strong.

"In my career, I've had ups and downs," he said. "I didn't even let that bother me. It's part of the game, and I was just anxious to get back."

Torres said that after the Fair Grounds meet ends he has tentative plans to spend a month at Evangeline Downs, then move his tack to Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania for the summer.

Giant Oak overcomes mouth injury

Everything is good for Louisiana Derby candidate Giant Oak, who missed a couple days of training last weekend because of a mouth injury. He is back to regular morning activity now, trainer Chris Block said Wednesday.

"We kind of two-minute licked him today, and he's going to work on Saturday," Block said.

Giant Oak missed a scheduled work last Saturday because of some sort of infection in his mouth. The problem quickly was brought under control, and Giant Oak should not be much worse for the missed days.

Gio Ponti still possible for Muniz

High-class Gio Ponti has been entered for Saturday's Grade 1 Kilroe Mile at Santa Anita, but still could ship to Fair Grounds for the Mervin Muniz Handicap on the Louisiana Derby card, trainer Christophe Clement said Wednesday. Clement said Gio Ponti's connections would take a look at the field for the $300,000 Kilroe and see what weight Gio Ponti was assigned for the $500,000 Muniz when weights are released Thursday. If Gio Ponti is to come to New Orleans, he would ship Wednesday, Clement said.

In other Muniz news, the top locally based horse for the race, Diamond Tycoon, worked a sharp five furlongs in 1:01.20 on Wednesday morning.