11/21/2008 1:00AM

Autrey and owners practicing less is more


NEW ORLEANS – Cody Autrey’s style of aggressive claiming has earned him a large number of fans and detractors, along with his many wins. Though his first weekend results at Fair Grounds were impressive, with 4 wins from 9 starts, Autrey seems intent on slightly altering his game plan by claiming fewer horses and buying better ones.

Autrey, 29, began the meet in a similar fashion last year, and continued to win all season through aggressive play in the claiming game – claiming horses and finding spots where they could win, even if that meant substantial drops in class. His work last year earned him second place in the final trainer standings.

“Last year we had 70 [horses] run at the Fair Grounds,” said Autrey. “Our attitude was that we had to have a horse for every kind of race.”

Though he has increased his ontrack presence to 50 stalls, up from 44 last year, he is not planning on stabling horses at Evangeline, where he kept 15 stalls last year.

The lion’s share of Autrey’s business comes from owners Sandy and Jerry Heflin and James and Ywachetta Driver, racing under Heflin and Driver Racing.

“They’re trying to improve the quality of the horses, and we do have a few better than we’ve had before,” said Autrey. “Heflin and Driver are emphasizing quality over quantity.”

Autrey indicated that he and his owners will still be claiming horses, just not at the rate they have in previous years. “They have been buying horses in private sales and purchasing 2-year-olds,” said Autrey.

Recent purchases at private sale include John’s Road, a winner over the turf who is being pointed toward the Bonapaw Stakes on Dec. 20, and Wild Etbauer, a 2-year-old filly who is being pointed toward the Louisiana Futurity.

Though he will have fewer horses, Autrey said he didn’t expect a decline in number of wins.

“Wherever we are based, that’s where we race,” said Autrey. “We will be entering a lot here at the Fair Grounds; it’s where I want to win. The purses are so good.”

Selva earns shot at Tiffany Lass

The unbeaten 2-year-old filly Selva is likely to make her next start in the $75,000 Tiffany Lass Stakes on Jan. 10 at Fair Grounds, trainer David Carroll said this week.

Selva debuted with a straight maiden win at Saratoga, captured the Sorority Stakes at Monmouth in her next start, and won the Glorious Song over on Polytrack at Woodbine last weekend.

A daughter of Forest Wildcat, Selva is not especially bred or made like a route horse, but she won last weekend over seven furlongs, her longest trip so far, and the one-mile Tiffany Lass has a short stretch run.

“I’m not sure how far she wants to go, but the owners would like me to try and stretch her out,” said Carroll, who trains Selva for Helen Groves and Helen Alexander. “The Tiffany Lass would be a logical spot to try that. There are [sprint] races for her at Gulfstream, but you do want to give her a chance to go two turns.”

Selva shipped back to Carroll’s string at Churchill Downs after her win, but will soon be heading to New Orleans.

Texas horsemen boost field size

While an increase in purses surely is the largest factor in the full fields this meet at the Fair Grounds, the closure of Sam Houston due to damage from Hurricane Ike has also played a role.

While 43 of the 65 days planned for the Sam Houston meet have been moved to Retama, many of the trainers who regularly split their stables and race at Sam Houston have been forced to make other plans.

“The situation in Texas with Sam Houston being closed has been difficult for everybody in Texas,” said trainer Bret Calhoun, “We’re calling an audible and changing some things up, and we are going to concentrate on the Fair Grounds.”

While Calhoun is going to concentrate on the Fair Grounds, he will divide his stable into four strings, and will be sending a string for the first time to Oaklawn.

Other trainers who customarily split their stables between Sam Houston and Fair Grounds include Michael Stidham and Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen nearing his own record

On Friday morning, bringing the first set back from morning works, Asmussen was optimistic about his chances of breaking his own record for wins in a year over the course of the weekend. He set the mark in 2004, with 555 wins, and through mid-afternoon Friday was four shy of tying the mark.

In the first weekend of racing at Fair Grounds, he saddled three winners from 14 mounts. Good results, but much of the buzz about his barn has gone, with its biggest stars gone to retirement.

Yet the Asmussen barn remains a large presence in Louisiana, with 50 stalls here and more stalls at Evangeline for horses who will race at the Fair Grounds.

“It will be a very different year,” said Asmussen. “We have a lot of 2-year-olds with a lot of talent, just not the older established horses we were so spoiled by.”

Asmussen’s barn remains a hive of activity, nearly a cottage industry unto itself on the backside of the track. As some of the help brought the new set out to be led to the track, the others began working, grooming and bathing the set who had just arrived.

– additional reporting by Marcus Hersh