01/07/2009 12:00AM

Asmussen loaded for stakes-filled card

Barbara D. Livingston
Steve Asmussen entered horses in all but one race Saturday at Fair Grounds.

NEW ORLEANS - Having just broken his own record for wins in a season during 2008, trainer Steve Asmussen has hit the slow-mo button to start 2009. This is evidenced by the fact that Asmussen entered horses in only 10 of the 11 races Saturday at Fair Grounds. Say what, Steve? Nothing for the $5,000 nonwinners-of-two Louisiana-bred claimer to begin the afternoon?

And it's not just any old Saturday, either: The moniker "Road to the Derby Kickoff Day" will not be winning any national marketing awards, but the phrase gets the job done. The local "Derby" is the Louisiana Derby on March 14, and before stopping off at the Risen Star Stakes next month, that road begins Saturday in the Lecomte Stakes. No staggering talent graces the Grade 3, one-mile Lecomte, but it's an interesting enough field that, of course, includes an Asmussen-trained horse, Uno Mas.

The Lecomte is one of six stakes Saturday, and Asmussen has horses for all of them. The Tiffany Lass for 3-year-old fillies drew the day's shortest field, with just five entries, but it will be interesting to see whether unbeaten Selva, 3 for 3 in sprints, can stretch out to two turns. Four Gifts, trained by Asmussen, exits a strong win in the Dec. 5 Delta Princess.

Saturday's first stakes, the six-furlong Gaudin, also drew a short field, with just six entered, but things get better from there. The Colonel Bradley, a turf route, drew 10 entries, while the Louisiana Handicap, for older dirt route horses, got 12, and features an appealing match-up between Secret Getaway and Honest Man. Thirteen female turf sprinters were entered in the A.B. Leggio, with the Lecomte the last of the stakes.

Nine were entered in the Lecomte, but eight at most will start, since Asmussen said Professor Z will be scratched in favor of the Smarty Jones Stakes later this month at Oaklawn Park. The others in the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte are Friesan Fire, Au Moon, Citizen, Patena, Big Push, Dynamic Force, Uno Mas, and Indygo Mountain.

Asmussen won the 2008 Lecomte with ZoFortune (who, like Professor Z, is owned by Ahmed Zayat), and his hope this year is Uno Mas. A Macho Uno colt, Uno Mas already has two wins at the Fair Grounds meet, having captured a six-furlong maiden race by more than four lengths on Nov. 15 and a one-mile entry-level allowance by more than two lengths on Dec. 18. That's impressive progress considering Uno Mas started his career with three losses (all on Polytrack) and over the summer was based at Arlington Park, far from the Asmussen 2-year-old "A" team.

"He's very attractive and a very big horse," Asmussen said. "He just carried a lot of weight early on, and we didn't want to rush him. He had a lot of talent, he was handy, but we didn't want to press, press, press. We tried not to get too far ahead of him, since we thought he'd be better longer and later."

Asmussen is an odds-on favorite to win his first Eclipse Award as the nation's leading trainer in 2008. To go with his 622 victories, Asmussen horses brought home $24.2 million in purses, and it does not take a genius to see that his operation is unique among current trainers. Sure, there are well-bred, expensive youngsters scattered at various major meets, but Asmussen regularly runs conditioned and open claimers and has shown just as much ability working the claiming game as he has developing young talent like Uno Mas.

Take Red Rock Creek, who is entered in Saturday's Colonel Bradley and comes into his 8-year-old season riding a two-race winning streak. All Red Rock Creek did last year at 7 was win five races, finish third or better in 10 of his 13 starts, and earn almost $230,000, which is not bad for a $10,000 claim. And with Red Rock Creek, purse money goes straight to Asmussen, who claimed the horse for himself in June 2006 at Remington Park. Asked why he took Red Rock Creek, Asmussen referred to the first concept of Claiming 101: "He looked like he was worth the $10,000."

Asmussen the owner has slowed down. Back in 2004, his 122 wins as an owner were the fourth most in the country; in 2008, he had 37 wins for about $877,000 in purses.

"Some people collect cars, I collect horses," Asmussen said.

And just for the record, Asmussen has opened up a six-win lead, 12-6, over Rick Dutrow in the 2009 national trainer standings. Slowing down? Not this guy, not now.

Autrey fined for medication violation

There have been three recent stewards' rulings of note at Fair Grounds.

Trainer Cody Autrey was fined $1,000 after Bright Hall tested positive for the Class 3 medication acepromazine - a commonly used tranquilizer - following his win in the second race on Nov. 30. Bright Hall was disqualified, and the race's purse money redistributed, with Rome Is Burning moved up to first. Bright Hall, a fast low-level route claimer, subsequently won another claiming race here. Autrey, second in the Fair Grounds standings with 22 wins, didn't receive a suspension because this was his first medication violation in Louisiana.

Jockey Cisco Torres, second in the local rider standings, was fined $500 Monday for "failure to ride his mount out" in Sunday's second race. Torres and a mare named My Elle Prada appeared to have this low-level claimer locked up in deep stretch. But when Torres relaxed in the race's final yards - drawing his whip down to his side just before the finish - so did My Elle Prada, allowing Bad Beat to surge late and earn a dead heat for win.

And finally, Jockey Jose Riquelme was fined $200 for misjudging the finish line while finishing third on Go Ante Go in Saturday's fourth race.