04/02/2009 11:00PM

Asmussen leads U.S. invasion


ETOBICOKE, Ontario - Last year, Steve Asmussen became the first trainer based in the United States to have a meet-long satellite division at Woodbine.

The Asmussen outfit was responsible for 264 starters and 40 winners, ranking sixth in each of those counts.

Asmussen again will have a Woodbine base this year, having been granted the same 32 stalls.

But he will be no longer be unique amongst U.S. trainers intending to have full-time divisions here as Vladimir Cerin, Dale Capuano, Steve Klesaris, and Michael Pino all have stalls for the 2009 meeting.

"I think when Asmussen got established here other trainers started thinking maybe it can be done," said Steve Lym, racing secretary and a director of racing for Woodbine.

"The logistics are difficult - stalls are tough to come by, and it's difficult for a big outfit to bring their own help.

"We've always had interest in people trying to come here. It's just a matter of do they fit?"

Cerin, 54, saddled his first winner at Del Mar in 1982 and in recent years has trained Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Albertus Maximus and Pacific Classic winner Student Council.

But through his long and distinguished career, Cerin has never started a horse at Woodbine.

He did, however, spend a year and a half in the Toronto and Hamilton areas after emigrating from Bosnia to Canada in the late 1960s.

"I always thought I'd like to come back," Cerin said.

And then, of course, there are the business considerations.

"I have horses who seem to run quite well on synthetic surfaces, and the purses there are phenomenal," Cerin said.

"I'll have several promising 3-year-old fillies and colts there - not quite top level, but just a notch below it right now."

Cerin, whose stock is scheduled to begin arriving early this week, hopes to have a handful of starters for the second weekend of the meeting.

Capuano, 46, who is currently racing at Gulfstream but has been most active in Maryland, has been training since 1981 and has 14 stalls here.

"I had good luck running Heros Reward there," said Capuano, who sent out that now 7-year-old gelding to win the 2007 Nearctic over six furlongs of turf and the 2008 Highlander over the same distance and surface.

"Hopefully, I'll bring Heros Reward there to run again in those stakes, and it makes it easier when you already have horses running there."

Capuano also likes the idea of a Woodbine division in more general terms.

"The place is very nice, and the money's good," Capuano said. "Maryland's not going so well, and they don't race so much in the summer anyway, so it kind of works out."

Klesaris, 49, started four horses here last year and finished second in three stakes - the Grade 3 Selene with Grace and Power, the Grade 3 Mazarine with Livin Lovin, and the Glorious Song with Holiday Girl.

Klesaris has raced all over the map this year, with starters at Philadelphia Park, Fair Grounds, Charles Town, Penn National, Gulfstream, and Aqueduct. He has 16 stalls here.

"He just had a bunch of horses he thought would fit," Lym said.

Pino, 46, has been active at Gulfstream Park this winter and does much of his racing at Delaware Park and Colonial Downs.

Pino, however, did have an outfit here for the final five weeks of the 2008 meeting and enjoyed some success with a record of 3-2-2 from 19 starters.

"The money's good, and the facility was great," Pino said. "We decided to give it a go."

Pino has 16 stalls and one of his tenants will be Intuition Magic, a 5-year-old Canadian-bred he sent out to win a first-level allowance here last fall in his first start after being claimed for $25,000 at Keeneland.

Diodoro, Simon plan local strings

Trainers Robertino Diodoro and Stu Simon also will have divisions at Woodbine this year while maintaining larger strings at Edmonton's Northlands Park.

Neither Diodoro nor Simon has ever run a horse at Woodbine, but both cited the uncertain racing situation in Alberta as a good reason to look east. Alberta is down to one 96-day meeting at Northlands due to the closing of Calgary's Stampede Park, and there is uncertainty about the proposed new racetrack in Balzac.

Diodoro, 35, has been training since 1995 and currently is racing at Turf Paradise. He already has set up his six stalls at Woodbine.

"A few of my owners are spending more money, and I wanted to give it a try there," Diodoro said.

"I have a couple of Ontario-breds who look promising. It makes sense to try to go where the money's better."

Simon, 45, has been training in Western Canada since 1983 and began contemplating a Woodbine division several years ago.

"I have horses who should fit somewhere in the mix, with some conditions," said Simon, who has eight stalls here. "They should find their level and be able to be competitive. And hopefully, some will develop."

Drexler sets up Woodbine base

Martin Drexler, 38, will be based at Woodbine this year after spending the latter part of the last three meetings here following the conclusion of the Assiniboia Downs seasons.

Drexler, who started training in Winnipeg in 2002, was the 2007 meet's leading trainer in both races won with 43 and money won with $513,000. Last year, he ended third in races won with 34 but first in purses with $395,000.

Charley Tango, who won a pair of claiming races here for Drexler last fall, is among his current charges.

"It was always the plan to come here," Drexler said. "I just needed a number of stalls I could work with. They gave me six; I'm happy with that."

Despite the influx of out-of-towners, Lym stresses that Woodbine remains very conscious of its local obligations.

"First and foremost, we want to get the best horses and the best trainers we can get to sell our product," Lym said.

"But, Woodbine being Woodbine, we're conscious of local breeders and longtime owners who need to be stabled here. We want to support the Ontario racing industry."