11/20/2001 12:00AM

Asmussen's arsenal is both potent and plentiful


NEW ORLEANS - Ask about anyone on the Fair Grounds backstretch which trainer is set up for a blockbuster meet here and one name keeps surfacing: Steve Asmussen.

Tom Amoss, the eight-time leading trainer here who tied with Asmussen for last year's title, summed up the situation. "He's got tremendous quality in his stable, and he's got numbers," Amoss said. "He's going to be tough to beat."

Asmussen's far-flung operation is gradually coalescing around this part of the country. This week, his Northern division is busy chasing the training title at Churchill Downs - with 10 wins, Asmussen topped the standings early this week. The Churchill string will make its way south next week, and over the winter Asmussen will split his stock among Fair Grounds, Sam Houston (where he also is the current leading trainer), and even Delta Downs, where he will have 30 horses. Later in the winter, Asmussen also will have a string at Oaklawn.

That's the quantity. As for the quality, Asmussen already has won with 11 2-year-olds this fall in Kentucky, and he has made eight colts early nominees to the Louisiana Derby, a race he won last year with Fifty Stars, who has resumed training in Laredo, Texas, after recovering from an injury.

"I'm very encouraged with the 2-year-olds," Asmussen said. "We have probably nine horses that are around where [Fifty Stars] was at this time last year."

Asmussen said he didn't send any turf horses to Kentucky, so expect him to excel in that area here. In fact, Asmussen's vast stable includes horses for virtually every class level, distance, or surface "I'm happy with the balance we have," he said. "I think we'll win a bunch of races here. I'd say we're stronger this year than last year."

Wagering service should meet goals

Fair Grounds's account wagering service, which is in its first year of operation, has expanded to about 3,000 subscribers, and track president Bryan Krantz is optimistic the program will meet its annual goal of $10 million in handle.

The account-wagering program includes both telephone and online betting, though the Internet side of the business is still in development. The track is close to completing a video component to its online service that would allow computer users to view basically the same graphics as television viewers.

The account-wagering menu will offer wagering on as many as four tracks besides Fair Grounds this winter, and the track has reached an agreement with Cox Cable to present its product on local channel 75. That outlet will reach about 500,000 homes, and Krantz said he has signed on with a cable provider in Houma, La., that will bring the product into another 400,000 homes.

Fair Grounds finds itself in competition with Television Games Network. Fair Grounds and TVG have a loose affiliation, Krantz said, but several major tracks, including those run by Churchill Downs, Inc. and the New York Racing Association, won't provide their signal to Fair Grounds for account wagering because of their relationship with TVG. That group, however, does not include the racetracks owned by Frank Stronach's Magna Entertainment, which means Fair Grounds winter menu will include races from Gulfstream Park and Santa Anita.

Krantz said he anticipates further growth in the account-wagering division, and that Fair Grounds might consider buying satellite space for national distribution if the business prospers.

Bonapaw, Alonzo reunited

Bonapaw is back home and ready to defend his title in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap, though the passage of a year has seen the horse go from a local secret to a nationally recognized sprinter. Bonapaw flopped in his most recent start, the Forego Handicap at Saratoga, but distinguished himself at racetracks from Iowa to New York after leaving Louisiana for the first time last spring.

When the locally based trainer Tucker Alonzo declined to travel north late this summer, Bonapaw wound up in trainer Al Stall's barn at Saratoga, but Alonzo has Bonapaw back now for owners Jim and Dennis Richards. "He's doing good again now," said Alonzo, who trains an eight-horse string, none of whom can hold a candle to Bonapaw. "He's a freak," Alonzo said.

Bonapaw got a month off after returning to Louisiana, and ideally, Alonzo said, he would have another week to get Bonapaw ready for the Thanksgiving Handicap. But Bonapaw, always a good work horse, has breezed four times, the last two of which were exceptional five-furlong moves. "He'll run his race, though," Alonzo said.

Bonapaw has Fair Grounds regular Crucible and the reformed claiming horse Robin de Nest to beat in the $75,000 Thanksgiving Day. Robin de Nest has won six times this year for trainer Tom Amoss and owner Tom Boy Stable and finished second to the crack sprinter Bet on Sunshine in his last start.

Real Cozzy resting

Trainer Danny Peitz said that Fair Grounds Oaks winner Real Cozzy, has been turned out to recover from a long 2001 campaign, but is scheduled to return to training early next month.

"She's in Ocala [Florida] now getting some rest and relaxation," said Peitz, who expects to get Real Cozzy back to New Orleans by the first of the year. "Hopefully she'll be back in time to make the Chou Croute" on Feb. 23, Peitz said.

Though she failed to win again after the Fair Grounds Oaks, Real Cozzy, a Cozzene filly owned by Robert and Lawana Low, finished second in two Grade 1 races and third in another. She wound up the year on a somewhat sour note when she was seventh in the Grade 1 Gazelle, after which Peitz and the Lows decided to put an end to her campaign.