04/23/2004 12:00AM

Asmussen sets sights on Withers


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Trainer Steve Asmussen, the leading trainer in the country in wins, will send two stakes winners, Two Down Automatic and Private Emblem, to New York for races at Aqueduct next weekend.

Two Down Automatic, second to the undefeated Smarty Jones in the Southwest Stakes in February, will start in the $150,000 Withers on Saturday, Kentucky Derby Day. The following afternoon, Asmussen will run Private Emblem in the $75,000-added Kings Point Handicap for New York-breds.

Two Down Automatic won his last race by 5 3/4 lengths in the slop in the one-mile Northern Spur Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn Park on April 10. In the one-mile Southwest on Feb. 28, Two Down Automatic was beaten three-quarters of a length by Smarty Jones, who will be among the favorites in the Kentucky Derby.

Asmussen said he fought the urge to run Two Down Automatic, a son of Smoke Glacken, back in a Kentucky Derby prep after the Southwest.

"It was tempting, but we decided to keep him at a mile because he's still a horse who is moving forward," said Asmussen, who will start Quintons Gold Rush in the Kentucky Derby. "Smarty Jones beat us when we were very right and he was running off a layoff, and we still couldn't beat him under those circumstances."

Asmussen said Javier Castellano will ride Two Down Automatic in the Grade 3 Withers at a mile.

Private Emblem, the champion 3-year-old New York-bred of 2002, won the Grade 3 Essex Handicap at Oaklawn in February for his first win since March 2003. In his last start, he finished sixth and last in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Park Handicap.

The 1 1/8-mile Kings Point will be Private Emblem's first race against New York-breds since he finished eighth in the Empire Classic in October at Belmont Park.

"He had a rough trip in the Empire Classic and got put up on the fence at the half-mile pole," Asmussen said.

Richard Migliore has the mount on Private Emblem in the Kings Point.

Pletcher plots course for his stars

On Friday, trainer Todd Pletcher said Bay Shore winner Forest Danger is his most likely starter for the Withers. Pletcher also nominated Shaniko, Value Plus, and Tomorrows Magic to the Withers. Tomorrows Magic was entered in Sunday's $150,000 Times Square.

Pletcher said a possible spot for Value Plus, who is unlikely to run in the Kentucky Derby, is the $200,000 Riva Ridge on the Belmont Stakes undercard, June 5. Shaniko likely will be pointed to the $200,000 Peter Pan at Belmont on May 22.

In his last start here April 10, the undefeated Forest Danger won the Grade 3 Bay Shore by 7 1/2 lengths and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 110.

"He's trained well since the Bay Shore and looks good," Pletcher said.

John Velazquez, who was aboard for each of Forest Danger's three career starts, rides the Pletcher-trained Pollard's Vision in the Kentucky Derby, so Eibar Coa has the mount in the Withers.

The presence of Forest Danger could keep the field size down. As of Friday, several horses were possible for the Withers, but the only probable starters were Forest Danger, Two Down Automatic, Medallist, and Pies Prospect.

Sands Point next for Lucifer's Stone

Lucifer's Stone, a leader in the 3-year-old turf filly ranks following back-to-back wins in stakes this year, will run next in the Grade 3, $100,000 Sands Point Stakes at Belmont on June 13.

Trained by Linda Rice, Lucifer's Stone is undefeated in three starts this year. After winning a first-level allowance race at Gulfstream Jan. 14, Lucifer's Stone won Gulfstream's Grade 3 Herecomesthebride in February and Keeneland's Appalachian Stakes in her last start April 14.

Rice said she would like to use the 1 1/8-mile Sands Point as a stepping-stone to the Grade 1 American Oaks, a 1 1/4-mile race at Hollywood Park on July 3.

"She has progressed nicely," said Rice, who trains Lucifer's Stone for Team Solaris Stable. "She broke her maiden [at Belmont] in a mile-and-an-eighth race and was drawing off. If everything goes well in the Sands Point, we would like to go to California for the American Oaks. I think a mile and a quarter will be within her scope."