11/14/2001 12:00AM

Asmussen runs three contenders

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - With two-thirds of the 24-day Churchill fall meet in the books, Steve Asmussen is a major contender for his first training crown here. He isn't surprised, given the size of his far-flung stable, but initially he believed that he probably did not have enough Churchill-based bullets to shoot for the title.

On Friday, Asmussen will be firing as diligently as anyone, sending out horses in each of the last three races, two which serve as co-features on the 17th program of the meet. Asmussen has Royal Win in the eighth race, a $44,200 allowance route for 2-year-olds; and Descapate in the ninth, a $46,800 allowance route for fillies and mares.

Until this fall, Asmussen, who has dominated racing in Texas since the sport resurfaced there in a major way in the mid-1990's, had been something of a bit player in Kentucky. He had mid-sized strings to run at the spring and fall meets at Keeneland and Churchill, but never enough horses to challenge the larger stables.

"We're still not there," said Asmussen. "For purposes of competing in Kentucky, my stable is still evolving. But it's been fun to watch some of our 2-year-olds win. I'm encouraged about what we can do here."

Midway through the Wednesday card, Asmussen, with seven wins, held a slight lead over a deep group of chasers. Five trainers had five wins, while four others had four.

All three of Asmussen's Friday starters are highly eligible to give him some needed cushion.

Royal Win exits a romping maiden victory at Keeneland and will be one of the favorites to wheel right back against entry-level juveniles.

Descapate, sensational in winning two of three starts, also will be among the wagering choices when racing for the first time in eight weeks.

And in the 10th and final race, a $40,300 maiden-special race, Asmussen will saddle another major contender, Easyfromthegitgo, who was second in a similar spot here opening day.

The Friday program also includes a $50,000 claiming sprint for 2-year-olds (race 5), but no grass races. Fridays are traditional no-turf days at Churchill.

* Dance Snow, trained by John T. Ward Jr., is expected to be the favorite Saturday when the lone stakes here this weekend, the $150,000 Mrs. Revere Stakes, is contested by a sizable field of 3-year-old fillies. The Grade 2 turf race goes at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

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