12/17/2010 4:52PM

Asmussen targets first victory at Santa Anita

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Steve Asmussen will send out Thiskyhasnolimit in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Steve Asmussen’s nationwide operation arrives in Southern California for an extended stay for the first time this month, coinciding with the start of the Santa Anita winter-spring meeting on Dec. 26.

It is the one region that Asmussen, 45, has yet to conquer. In earning the Eclipse Award as the nation’s outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009, Asmussen’s stable has thrived on such major circuits as New York and Kentucky, while maintaining a presence in Illinois, Florida, Louisiana, and Texas, to name a few.

Aside from the 2008 and 2009 Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, in which he was winless with five runners, including a fourth-place finish by 2008 Horse of the Year Curlin in the BC Classic, Asmussen has had just two runners at Santa Anita in the last five years.

His next winner at the track will be his first, and the achievement is likely to occur soon.

This winter, Asmussen has a 28-horse stable at Santa Anita, taking advantage of the track’s decision to replace its troubled synthetic surface with a conventional sand and clay track and a higher overnight purse structure created by an increase in takeout on exotic wagers.

Asmussen spent two days at Santa Anita earlier this week, checking on the stable’s development. The barn will have an immediate presence in the meeting’s major races when Thiskyhasnolimit starts in the $250,000 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-olds over seven furlongs on Dec. 26.

Asmussen is downplaying early expectations for the stable and Thiskyhasnolimit. The colt was seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs on Nov. 6 in his last start.

“Hopefully, the circumstances will suit him,” Asmussen said. “We’re a little apprehensive about the East to the West and acclimating.”

Owned by Mark Wagner and Bob and Cathy Zollars, Thiskyhasnolimit has won 4 of 12 starts and $547,532 and has won two stakes this year – the Matt Winn Stakes over seven furlongs at Churchill Downs in May and the Smarty Jones Stakes over a mile and 70 yards at Parx Racing in September.

That win was followed by a good second to top 3-year-old Lookin at Lucky in the Indiana Derby at Hoosier Park on Oct. 2, though the BC Dirt Mile was a disappointment. Thisskyhasnolimit was eighth on the backstretch, and as close as fifth on the turn, while racing wide, before finishing 6 1/4 lengths behind Dakota Phone.

“I don’t think it was ideal,” Asmussen said. “He’s better than that. In a race of that caliber, you don’t always get the spot you want.”

As for the rest of the stable, Asmussen’s team includes maidens and allowance-class horses that are desperately needed among a Southern California horse inventory that has seen a drop in quality in recent years. What impact Asmussen has during the winter-spring meeting will play out on the racetrack. He made no prediction earlier this week.

“There’s no way of knowing,” Asmussen said. “What we hope for is we have some nice prospects that can develop into whatever they’ll be.”