02/07/2008 12:00AM

Asmussen set for huge day


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - In Saturday's most interesting races at Aqueduct and Fair Grounds, "all Steve Asmussen all the time" is the repetitive theme.

If you're scoring at home, Asmussen has key contenders in the two best races at the Big A, where he was easily the top percentage trainer at press time, and in the six stakes at the Fair Grounds, where he has a daylight lead in the standings. Given how well his horses have run at both tracks this winter, it's not surprising that a key issue is evaluating what they might do off peak performances. Needless to say, the slopes get more slippery due to considerations of spacing and surface/distance/class changes.

Aqueduct, race 7: Among a baker's dozen of optional-claiming sprinters, the one to beat is the Asmussen-trained Sir Winston, who comes off a lifetime-best Beyer Speed Figure of 101 to beat $60,000 claimers. A sharp breaker tailor-made for the inner track, Sir Winston's main threats are Roaring Lion, who closed out 2007 in top form and most recently dueled for the lead in Laurel's Fire Plug Stakes, and Yes It's the Truth, who steps up after beating $35,000 stock in a meet-fastest 1:08.99 for six furlongs.

Aqueduct, race 8: The inner track's rail was golden Wednesday and Thursday, and Mulligatawny will be tough to catch and beat in the Correction Handicap if those conditions continue. Mulligatawny was claimed for $25,000 by Asmussen at Saratoga and has won four straight on the front end. She is drawn on the rail and will have to turn back the vastly improved Rite Moment, who would relish a wet track.

Fair Grounds, race 4: The top last-out Beyer (89) in the Pan Zareta is shared by three fillies, including Tres Dream, a deep-closing sprinter who has won her last four starts on conventional dirt for Asmussen. She has to give six pounds to Sutra and Graeme Six, who got their 89s when noses apart last month. Coming off a new top figure off a long layoff, Sutra seems more susceptible to a bounce than Graeme Six, who ran a 94 running second to Dream Rush in the Prioress last year.

Fair Grounds, race 5: Stormin Baghdad and Natural Speed are uncoupled for Asmussen in the Colonel Power. They are closely matched off a one-two finish in the recent Bonapaw, but come off peak efforts and face the prospect of wide trips from outside posts. The unbeaten Euroears, who edged Stormin Baghdad on the main track, drew outside them both and could also regress off a 106.

A potential rebound play is Mystery Classic, who never fired verus the Asmussen duo in the Bonapaw, but had won 12 of 17 previous starts.

Fair Grounds, race 6: The reputation horses in the Mineshaft are Grasshopper, second in last year's Travers and Super Derby, and Magna Graduate, a multiple graded stakes winner of more than $2.3 million. The horse with the best last-out Beyer, however, is Asmussen's Silver Lord, a late-blooming 5-year-old who won the Louisiana Handicap four weeks ago with a 103. Grasshopper hasn't run since last September, and the 6-year-old Magna Graduate was hard to gauge last year, so this is a big opportunity for Silver Lord if he can avoid a regression. Silver Lord is cross-entered in Saturday's Essex Handicap at Oaklawn Park.

Oh, by the way - the Maryland shipper Encaustic will make his first start for Asmussen, though this looks like an ambitious spot.

Fair Grounds, race 7: In the Fair Grounds Handicap, Asmussen has an up-and-comer in Inca King, a 4-year-old who began 2007 with maiden and allowance wins for Eduardo Caramori, and promptly won the Grade 2 Jefferson Cup in his first start off the trainer change. Inca King finished the year with stakes wins at Keeneland, Churchill Downs, and Fair Grounds. He drops seven pounds, and may have a home-field edge in the sternest test of his career against the venerable Better Talk Now and Daytona, who improved sharply to win three graded stakes on the Southern California circuit, but who may find this turf course less conducive to his early-pace style.

Fair Grounds, race 8: Indian Blessing stretches out off a gut-wrenching win on Santa Anita's not-so-Cushioned Track, and has to break from the outside post in the Silverbulletday; the unbeaten champ is exceedingly vulnerable, especially with the presence of pace rival Miss Missile.

The returning Proud Spell has never done anything but run well, and is likely to give a good account after a series of purposeful workouts over the track.

The "now" filly is Asmussen's Jolie the Cat, who drew the rail and steps up after controlling the pace in the Tiffany Lass.

Fair Grounds, race 9: Asmussen has a solid one-two punch in the Risen Star, as stretch-running Pyro makes his 3-year-old debut, and the New York-bred Z Fortune looks to stay perfect after a powerful finish to win the Lecomte.

Their main rivals, Check It Twice, Blackberry Road, and Visionaire, all drew favorably toward the inside.