02/26/2010 1:00AM

Asmussen's just warming up


Despite a surprisingly slow start to the meet, Steve Asmussen is cruising to another Fair Grounds training title, with 53 winners going into Friday's card. Through Thursday, all the North American outposts of his stable had combined to win 97 races in 2010, 46 more than the next-highest total for a trainer, and Asmussen's runners have earned more than $2.1 million early in the year. And yet, with luck, the best part of Asmussen's season is yet to come.

At Sam Houston, several talented 3-year-olds of 2009 are on their way back. Nuclear Wayne, out since finishing fourth in the Hirsch Jacobs last spring at Pimlico, has worked four times. Grade 3-placed Omniscient has posted two works, and the most accomplished of the Houston 4-year-olds, West Virginia Derby winner Soul Warrior, just had his first timed workout of the season.

At Fair Grounds, heavier hitters are gearing up. Hot Dixie Chick, sharp winner of the Grade 1 Spinaway in her final start at 2, has posted six timed workouts, the last three at five furlongs. Hot Dixie Chick can't be too far away from her 2010 debut, but that race hasn't yet been announced.

And finally, on Wednesday, 4-year-old Kensei had his first breeze of the year, going an easy half-mile in 50.20 seconds. Kensei, a gorgeous chestnut, hasn't started since he finished third to Girolamo in the Oct. 11 Jerome Handicap at Belmont. Kensei came to hand early last summer, winning a pair of New York Grade 2's, the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy, while at the top of his game.

Asmussen called Kensei's first work back "perfect" and said the colt is "just on a nice, easy schedule."

"I think it's too early to have a target with him," said Asmussen.

Macho Again won't make meet

Macho Again won the 2009 New Orleans Handicap, but, though he worked a half-mile Thursday at Fair Grounds, he will not be ready to race until sometime after the Fair Grounds meet concludes in late March, trainer Dallas Stewart said.

"He's not going to make the races here," said Stewart. "He'll be ready a little bit later than that."

A 5-year-old Macho Uno colt, Macho Again hasn't raced since he finished ninth as the favorite in the Clark Handicap on Nov. 27 at Churchill Downs. Macho Again has been somewhat up and down throughout his career, but when in form, he has ranked among the best older dirt route horses in the country. Macho Again finished second in the 2008 Preakness and later that year won the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. Last year, he won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in addition to the New Orleans Handicap, and he was second in the Whitney and Woodward at Saratoga.

Thursday's easy work, a half in 51 seconds, was Macho Again's second drill of 2010. Stewart said that at this point, there are two primary possibilities for a comeback spot: The $1 million Charles Town Classic on April 17, and the $150,000 Alysheba Stakes on April 30 at Churchill.

Asmussen ready for turf or dirt

With rain in the New Orleans forecast Friday into Saturday, who knows if the featured seventh race Sunday will stay on turf or get moved to dirt? Either way, the Asmussen barn is live in this high-level Louisiana-bred allowance race.

If the Sunday feature stays on turf, the Asmussen barn can turn to Hisse, a two-time winner in three starts over the local grass. A rain-off onto dirt would bring Seven Seventythree's talents into play. Two races ago, she won the Louisiana Champions Day Ladies Sprint, and last out nearly beat heavily favored Superior Storm in a two-turn stakes race at Delta Downs.