01/12/2005 12:00AM

Asmussen holds three aces

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Jeff Coady/Coady Photography
The filly Punch Appeal, winning last month's Delta Princess, will be a heavy favorite in the Tiffany Lass.

NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Steve Asmussen had a smile on his face at the stakes draw for the Road to the Derby Kickoff Day card at Fair Grounds. Asked how he was feeling that morning, he replied "fantastic!"

And why not? He had the overwhelming favorite, Punch Appeal, entered in the $100,000 Tiffany Lass, the fast-improving Smooth Bid entered in the Lecomte, and the dead game Black Escort in the Leggio.

Punch Appeal is by far the class of the field in the Tiffany Lass after amassing $389,000 in earnings as a 2-year-old, and winning 6 of 9 starts, including five stakes races. She appears to have her six rivals in the Tiffany Lass, a mile race for 3-year-old fillies, at her mercy with a running style combining speed and stamina.

"She's a very accomplished filly," said Asmussen. "Her last two wins have been at a mile. We're very excited about her prospects."

Punch Appeal joined Asmussen's stable last year before the Spinaway at Saratoga.

"Mr. [William] Heiligbrodt purchased her after she had beaten a very nice filly of his in Florida," said Asmussen.

Punch Appeal finished fifth after being bumped at the start in the Spinaway. "She didn't get away well in that race," said Asmussen.

Punch Appeal rebounded to win the Kentucky Cup Juvenile Fillies at Turfway Park, but had no excuse in the Grade 2 Alcibiades at Keeneland.

"The Alcibiades was the only disappointing race we've had with her," Asmussen said, "but she's been very good since then."

The 4-year-old filly Black Escort has had a solid career on the grass, finishing third in the Grade 2 Criterium Maisons Laffitte in 2003 and finishing 1-2-1 in six 2004 grass races.

"She's run well in better company," said Asmussen. "She hasn't really broken through yet but she's very consistent. She ran third in a stakes at Remington and second in a stakes at Churchill. She has more reason to go forward in this spot."

Smooth Bid may appear overmatched in the Lecomte by the likes of Storm Surge and Biloxi Palace, but Asmussen likes the way his horse is developing.

"He is training very well down here," Asmussen said.

Howard enters America Alive

Neil Howard called an audible when he decided to enter America Alive in the Colonel E. R. Bradley Handicap.

"We were kind of on the fence," Howard admitted. "I'm really reluctant to run a horse back so quickly."

America Alive's last race was a little more than two weeks ago. He finished with a huge rally to nail Regal Proof and Mr. Sulu at the wire of an optional claiming race on turf.

"He's a very quiet, laid-back horse," said Howard, "but he prepped well for the race."

The deciding factor came when high weight G P Fleet opted for another spot and passed on the Bradley.

Listen Indy in good spot

Listen Indy appears well placed in Friday's feature race, a $30,000 allowance for 4-year-olds-and-up at one mile on the main track. The Michael Stidham-trained Listen Indy finished third in a 1 1/8-mile grass allowance in his first race over the track since shipping from Hollywood Park, and should be fitter from the conditioning and will not be hurt by the cutback in distance.

Listen Indy's main rivals appear to be Lost Cherokee and Drama King.