01/15/2008 12:00AM

Asmussen sets meet stakes win mark


Steve Asmussen has become the perennial leading trainer at Fair Grounds, but what Asmussen is doing at the ongoing meet is unprecedented, even by his standards. And on top of it all, Asmussen unleashed a colt on Saturday - Lecomte Stakes winner Z Fortune - who may be a contender for major 3-year-old stakes in weeks to come.

Asmussen not only has 42 victories from 154 starters at the meet - putting him on a pace to break Jack Van Berg's Fair Grounds meet-record of 92 trainer wins - but also his three stakes victories Saturday gave him 11 for the meet. Already, with well over half the meet left, Asmussen has set a meet record for stakes wins by a trainer, eclipsing the old mark of eight.

While Asmussen could not have forecast this kind of run, he did feel positioned for a strong season before Fair Grounds got started on Thanksgiving.

"Yeah, I felt really good about it, since we had an awesome bunch of horses for the meet," Asmussen said on Tuesday by phone. "I feel good about who we got left, too."

Asmussen's New Orleans stakes run has come without any of his top earners from 2007 - Curlin, Pyro, Zanjero, and Kodiak Kowboy - making a start. Curlin and Pyro are a couple steps ahead of Zanjero and Kodiak Kowboy, but the latter two are scheduled for their first work of the year on Sunday. The 3-year-old filly Rated Fiesty, unchallenged in three wins last year at 2, also is closing in on her 2008 debut.

As for Z Fortune, he is "a strong possibility" to make his next start in the Feb. 9 Risen Star, according to Asmussen. Z Fortune ran his record to 3 for 3 with a sharp win in the one-mile Lecomte, recording a good time of 1:37.79 and a Beyer Speed Figure of 95. Z Fortune was not only making his stakes debut, but also starting for the first time in a race not restricted to New York-breds.

Z Fortune, an $80,000 yearling purchase owned by Ahmed Zayat, is by Siphon out of a Fortunate Prospect mare, a pedigree well off the beaten track for Triple Crown hopefuls. But Z Fortune gives every indication that he can perform better at distances longer than Saturday's one-mile trip.

"I thought he went under the wire very nicely," Asmussen said of Z Fortune's finishing kick. "I don't know where it comes from, but I like how he travels. He comes off his hind end and jumps a long way."

Asmussen won the Tiffany Lass with Jolie the Cat, who led from start to finish while setting a slow pace, but plans are more fluid for the filly.

"That was a huge step up for her," said Asmussen. "Whether I run her in the [Feb. 9] Silverbulletday or wait for the [Fair Grounds] Oaks with her, I don't know, but she is going to stay at the Fair Grounds."

Where Asmussen's third Saturday stakes winner, Silver Lord, runs back is no longer in Asmussen's hands. Silver Lord, Asmussen said, already has been moved to the Oaklawn Park barn of trainer Ron Moquett. Moquett saddled Silver Lord to a maiden win at the Churchill meet before Silver Lord came to Fair Grounds with Asmussen, winning an allowance race before a sharp upset score in Saturday's Louisiana Handicap.

Calhoun lost in Asmussen's big shadow

While Asmussen thunders through the Fair Grounds meet, trainer Bret Calhoun is quietly putting together an excellent meet himself. Through Monday, Calhoun had won 23 races at the meet, good for third among local trainers, and in Euroears, he appears to have a sprinter that could make an impact on a national scale this year.

Euroears, Calhoun said, exited his rousing win over Stormin Baghdad in the Gaudin Memorial on Saturday in good shape, but plans for his next start haven't yet been set. Calhoun said Euroears was likely to remain at Fair Grounds, where he would have stakes options in both February and March.

Blackberry Road will try again

The second-place finisher in the Lecomte, Blackberry Road, will return for the next stakes race in the Fair Grounds series for 3-year-old males, but Tizaqueena, second as the favorite in the Tiffany Lass, may or may not be back for next month's Silverbulletday in New Orleans.

Blackberry Road was no match for Z Fortune, but was put at an early disadvantage when he was held up well behind a soft early pace. But Blackberry Road made a nice move off the far turn and into the short stretch run of the one-mile Lecomte, finishing 1 1/2 lengths in front of third-place Mad Flatter.

"I think we deserve to go on to the next one," trainer David Carroll said. "I was pleased with his performance on Saturday."

Tizaqueena stumbled after the start in the Tiffany Lass, but Stidham refused to use that as an excuse for her 2 1/2-length loss to Jolie the Cat. Tizaqueena, Stidham said, was possible for the Silverbulletday, but both she and stablemate Abby's Angel - a sharp maiden winner last week at Fair Grounds - also will be nominated to the Feb. 17 Martha Washington Stakes at Oaklawn.

Warn needs fast pace up front

Warn couldn't overcome a negative pace setup in his most recent start. In Thursday's featured ninth race, he will have to overcome a poor post-position draw.

Warn rallied strongly into a slow pace when he finished second on Dec. 16 in an entry-level turf allowance race. He is back at the same class level on Thursday, and drew post 10.

For Warn to break through this time, the prospective front-runners entered in the one-mile grass race - horses like Nereus, Firerock Base, and Rock Gold - will have to set a decent pace out of the gate, spreading the field and allowing Warn to drop in for position.

If the half-mile fraction is honest, Warn stands a good chance of getting up. If not, the race becomes wide open.