10/29/2009 11:00PM

Asmussen takes stock of his chances


LEXINGTON, Ky. - People who like the babies - not the diaper-wearing kind, but the four-legged equine variety - are sure to love the racing at Churchill Downs Sunday, which includes an 11-race card consisting entirely of races for juveniles, capped by the Grade 3 Pocahontas Stakes for fillies and the Grade 3 Iroquois for males.

Throughout the day, talent and depth run aplenty - thanks to the support of horsemen, whom flooded the card with entries, with no trainers more active than D. Wayne Lukas and Steve Asmussen, who entered 10 horses apiece.

The large number of entries from Asmussen is in contrast to his relative limited participation at Keeneland, which has a Polytrack surface, not a dirt track.

When a trainer wins a race on the Polytrack, "What do you know?" Asmussen asked. "Right now you want to know good or how bad they are so you can assess their future."

A win over Polytrack proves a horse likes synthetic races, but as it applies to the dirt ability of 2-year-olds and their relative merits for major races at 3, including the Kentucky Derby, "you just don't know," he said.

Sunday at Churchill Downs, Asmussen should get to know something about his multitude of starters.

Horseplayers will, as well. For now, though, here are some of Asmussen's thoughts on some of his more prominent Sunday starters:

Race 2, Raphael Alexandro, 3-1: A son of Medaglia d'Oro, he is a new addition to the Asmussen barn, and hasn't even worked for the trainer after recording all of his works on the West Coast for Bob Baffert. Owner Ahmed Zayat of Zayat Stables, "wanted to get him on dirt," Asmussen said. "He'll probably need a race."

Race 5, Mister Minister, 3-1: Asmussen thinks highly of this colt, an Oklahoma-bred son of Songandaprayer. "He's got speed," he said. "He's well intended for that spot . . . he's a nice horse."

Race 6, Hurricane Hal, 6-1: Bought for $650,000 earlier this year by Stonestreet Stable, this son of Tiznow is a "great big colt," Asmussen said, adding "that's why we wanted to route him."

Race 7, Heavenly Sister, 3-1: An Ackerly Brothers homebred, she is out of a filly Asmussen trained, graded stakes winner Little Sister. She ran fifth in her lone start, in all places at Philadelphia Park, chasing a fat $66,000 purse there.

"It was her first time shipping, and she didn't fire," he said.

That is not the case Sunday, when she will simply be led over from her regular Churchill barn.

Race 8 (the Pocahontas), Vertical Vision, 6-1: A speedy filly who has won her last three starts on dirt, all with lofty Beyers, the unknown with her is distance.

"I don't know if she has the strength for a one-turn mile, but she deserves the chance."

Race 10, (Iroquois), Thisskyhasnolimit, 6-1: A distant third behind D' Funnybone in the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont, he is a colt who "trains unbelievably, but hasn't put it together in the afternoon," said Asmussen, who still thinks highly of this Sky Mesa colt.

Partners change approach

Jack Wolf, one of the principals of Starlight Partners, has experienced immense success as an owner, largely by buying yearlings and watching them develop into top-class performers - with horses such as Ashado, Octave, and Harlan's Holiday being just a few of his top runners.

But when his group of 2-year-old colts this year was slow to come around, Wolf decided to deviate from his usual strategy, buying a "made" horse from Vision Racing - that being stakes-winning 3-year-old Three Day Rush after that colt won the NATC Futurity at Monmouth Park.

Now Three Day Rush starts as one of the favorites in Sunday's co-featured Iroquois Stakes.

"I feel like I'm on my first date," Wolf said.

He said four of his five regular partners in Starlight Partners were on board for purchasing Three Day Rush, including Donald Lucarelli, who often teams with Wolf.

He said no bloodstock agents were involved in the selection. He just liked what he saw from the Harlan's Holiday colt in his three starts.

"My partners have me to blame one way or another, but at least we saved the 5 percent commission," he quipped.

My Pal Charlie retired

My Pal Charlie, winner of last year's Grade 2 Super Derby, has been retired and will stand stud in 2010 at Elite Thoroughbreds in Folsom, La. for $3,000.

A 4-year-old son of Indian Charlie, My Pal Charlie is a full brother to Florida-based sire Bwana Charlie, a Grade 2 winner of $388,850, and a half-brother to Grade 3 winner Bwana Bull. Purchased by B. Wayne Hughes for $300,000 as a yearling, My Pal Charlie raced for Hughes of Spendthrift Farm and was trained by Al Stall Jr.

Winless in 9 starts after winning the Super Derby, My Pal Charlie came close in several major races late last year and in 2009, including when he ran fourth in this year's Met Mile. He concluded his career with a seventh-place finish in the Grade 3 Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland Oct. 9. He retired sound, Stall said.

Paddock seminar in the morning

Churchill Downs will host its annual "Stars of Tomorrow" 2-year-old handicapping seminar Sunday in the Paddock Pavilion from 9-11:30 a.m.

Churchill Downs racing analyst Jill Byrne, jockey Jon Court, trainer Ian Wilkes, and workout clocker John Nichols are all part of the seminar, which will focus on 2-year-old racing and an analysis of Sunday card.

The cost to attend is $25 and includes a breakfast buffet, program, past performances, and a reserved seat in Skye Terrace 5.