11/12/2008 12:00AM

Enjoying a career year, Klesaris lands at Fair Grounds


NEW ORLEANS - Steve Klesaris was an underbidder on Stardom Bound - who soon will be named champion 2-year-old filly - when she was auctioned off last March in Florida. But even without the one that got away, Klesaris is loaded with high-quality 2-year-old females, several of whom will make their winter home at Fair Grounds.

That's where Klesaris is this week, stabled in New Orleans for the first time in his training career. Klesaris has 40 horses each at the Fair Hill training center in Maryland and nearby Delaware Park, and he will take about 15 from each location to fill out his Fair Grounds string.

"I've wanted to come down the last couple of years, but it just didn't materialize," Klesaris said. "I like the way the meet here coincides with what I want to do."

Klesaris is in the midst of a career-best year. His 125 wins rank 19th nationally, and his stable earnings of $5.2 million rank 20th, a personal high-water mark. Klesaris had won seven graded stakes in the five years before this season, but has gone 4-5-1 from 18 graded stakes starters in 2008.

Much of his success traces to the 2-year-old fillies. The first to emerge was Mani Bhavan, who won the Adirondack and the Spinaway at Saratoga before fading to seventh after setting the pace last month in the two-turn Alcibiades Stakes at Keeneland. If Mani Bhavan comes to Fair Grounds, it will be late in the meet to prepare for a race somewhere else, Klesaris said. But three other of his fillies, who might be at least as good, should surface here.

At the top of the list is Sky Diva, who won the Grade 1 Frizette by almost four lengths before finishing a tough-trip third behind Stardom Bound in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. Sky Diva will race in the Demoiselle Stakes at Aqueduct, and - provided all is well - will ship to Fair Grounds, Klesaris said. She is an obvious candidate for the Fair Grounds Oaks in March, and by that point, Sky Diva might better have grown into her body.

"Right now she's like a 13-year-old girl who's 5-foot-11," Klesaris said.

Livin Lovin will be the first of his major fillies to arrive Fair Grounds, and will ship here from Delaware within a couple weeks, Klesaris said. Livin Lovin won the one-mile Tempted Stakes on Nov. 2 at Aqueduct by more than four lengths.

"That was an explosive move she made to win," said Klesaris.

Klesaris is considering two spots for Livin Lovin, but suggested the $500,000 Delta Princess on Dec. 5 might be more likely than the $250,000 Hollywood Starlet a week later.

And finally, Holiday Girl, an eight-length debut winner at Delaware in August, will start in a stakes race at Woodbine, then come to Fair Grounds, Klesaris said.

Klesaris has an old turf claimer named King's Coronation entered for opening day. The big guns will be out later.

Asmussen expects drop off in 2009

Steve Asmussen's 534th winner this year came in the first race on a wet Wednesday at Hawthorne Race Course, and it seems like just a matter of when Asmussen will break his own record of 555 wins by a trainer in a year, set in 2004.

"Hopefully, it'll be right around the first of December," Asmussen said. "It'll be a little hard to do the next couple weeks."

With more than $21 million in stable earnings, Asmussen also is a shoo-in to lead the nation in that category, too. A 2008 Eclipse Award seems well within range, and Asmussen still has Curlin housed in his Churchill Downs barn, awaiting a decision on his future. But for all that has happened in 2008, which began with a rip-roaring Asmussen meet at Fair Grounds, 2009 does not hold the same promise.

"We were fortunate to end last year with a tremendous amount of momentum, and we got off to a great start at the Fair Grounds, had a great meet down there, and it kind of snowballed," Asmussen said.

But, asked if he could come close to duplicating last season's Fair Grounds success, where he won 86 races and smashed the existing record with 16 stakes wins, Asmussen didn't hesitate to reply: "Not even maybe."

"When they're retiring Student Council, Zanjero, J Be K, Pyro - the group of horses that have walked out of our barn the last few weeks is crazy," Asmussen said. "It's going to be different."

Asmussen's crop of 2-year-olds would be the envy of most horsemen, but to date, few of them have stood out on the national scene.

"We've got some very nice horses," he said. "They just haven't done it yet."

The most accomplished 2-year-old in the stable is Trinity Magic, who has whipped New York-breds in his three starts so far, and soon will arrive at Fair Grounds to prep for the $750,000 Delta Jackpot next month. Asmussen also spoke highly of War Echo, a three-quarter sister to Pyro - and other youngsters of his are likely to step forward.

And regardless of quality, quantity is not an issue in this massive operation. Asmussen had horses for five races on Friday's card, and for four more on Saturday.

Just call him all-terrain Terrain

Trainer Al Stall has the fairly promising 3-year-old Tend in a second-level allowance race opening day, but Stall also has proven stakes horses stabled in his Fair Grounds barn. Among them is Terrain, who finished a close fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, has at least been competitive in all his starts, and also is being pointed to the Delta Jackpot.

"If he doesn't act just right, we won't run, but he seems good now," Stall said.

Terrain won his debut in a $50,000 maiden claimer on Churchill dirt, then won a race on Mountaineer Park dirt, and was placed first via disqualification on Arlington Polytrack in the Arlington-Washington Futurity. He finished second over Keeneland Polytrack in the Breeders' Futurity, and then ran well over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface.

"He's Mr. Versatility," Stall said.

* Super Derby winner My Pal Charlie, who briefly led before finishing a close fourth in the BC Dirt Mile, is in light training here, and is being pointed to the Mineshaft Handicap in February with an eye toward the New Orleans Handicap.