02/08/2004 1:00AM

Asmussen gets first '04 Sunland stakes


SUNLAND PARK, N. M. - Steve Asmussen is off to a sensational start in 2004, leading the nation's trainers in both wins and earnings, while dominating the standings at three tracks simultaneously: Fair Grounds, Sam Houston and Sunland Park. However, Asmussen had quietly gone zero-for-nine in Sunland stakes, an anomaly put to rest on Sunday afternoon when local Asmussen assistant Tony Mathiasen sent out an uncoupled three-horse entry that swept the win-place-show spots in the $50,000-added for older distaffers.

Big Score, who at 7-1 was the longshot of the trio, went right to the lead with Isaias Enriquez, then fought off 9-5 second choice Hacienda Del Mar through the stretch to score a three-quarters of a length win. City Sleeper, the actual betting favorite at 9-5, rallied through the stretch to gain third place.

Big Score, owned by Jack Grunwald et al under the banner of Grunwald Racing LLC, was making her first start as a four-year-old. Big Score was a hot commodity at two, winning three races, including an allowance at Saratoga and the Kindergarten Stakes at Philadelphia Park, but lost her first four races at three.

Shipped to Sunland in mid-December, Big Score won her last start of 2003 in an allowance and that effort appears to have put her back on the right track. Her career record now stands at 10-5-0-0 with earnings of $159,593.

Big Score was timed in 1:09.00 for six furlongs and returned $16.20 to win.

A box of the Asmussen runners in the exotic wagers would have proven profitable as the $1 exacta paid $33.20 and the $1 trifecta $70.20.

The win was the third on the card for Asmussen and he now holds a 35 to 23 edge over Henry Dominguez in the Sunland standings with 36 racing days remaining.