07/04/2007 11:00PM

Extracting value out of Asmussen

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The two juvenile stakes at Churchill Downs on Saturday - the Grade 3 Debutante and Grade 3 Bashford Manor - appear typical of the vast majority of 2-year-old races run at Churchill Downs this meet. As usual, trainer Steve Asmussen holds the deepest and strongest hand.

He starts a pair of stakes-winning fillies in the eight-horse Debutante, Rated Fiesty and Wonderful Luck, and in the Bashford Manor he goes three deep in another eight-horse field, starting Kodiak Kowboy, Hargill, and Crackalackin.

Based on his production with

2-year-olds this meet, Asmussen will be tough to beat. According to Daily Racing Form's Formulator software, he has won at a 41 percent clip this meet with his juveniles and 78 percent have hit the board.

Those numbers are all the more impressive when you consider that in some cases, such as in the Debutante and Bashford Manor, he ran stablemates against each other. They couldn't all win.

So I'm not going to try to beat Asmussen's representatives Saturday. The challenge, however, is coming up with the right one to support.

Beginning with the Debutante, that race would appear to offer an easy choice - Rated Fiesty, who earned a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for winning the Kentucky Breeders' Cup on the Thursday before the Kentucky Derby.

But with the eyes of horseplayers expected to pop out of their heads upon seeing that lofty Beyer, Rated Fiesty will almost certainly be hammered to even money or less in the Debutante. As well as she has performed in winning her two starts, that is simply too short a price to accept in juvenile race in which none of the competitors have raced the six-furlong distance.

My value-based choice is Wonderful Luck, who ran a well-beaten fourth behind Rated Fiesty in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup. But that race came in the slop, a surface that some in that race failed to handle, with the obvious exceptions of Rated Fiesty and Yogi'ssplashofgold, the runner-up.

Case in point: Ready's Image. Third in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup, earning a 79 Beyer, he leaped forward to a 99 Beyer in winning the July 1 Tremont Stakes at Belmont over a fast track.

Wonderful Luck also moved forward in her post-Kentucky Breeders' Cup start, taking the Cinderella Stakes at Hollywood Park on May 27, posting a 72 Beyer over the Cushion Track surface.

A 72 Beyer still doesn't put her near the top of Rated Fiesty, but my guess is that Wonderful Luck is still capable of another forward move. She was so visually impressive in winning a maiden race at Keeneland in the spring that one gets the impression that she is graded stakes material.

My feeling is that Wonderful Luck, given her ability to quicken, is probably best as a synthetic track runner rather than on Churchill's dirt surface, but going six furlongs and with a fast pace in the Debutante expected, I'll try her as a value-priced alternative to stablemate Rated Fiesty.

Bashford Manor

As the lone stakes winner in the field, Kodiak Kowboy would merit being a heavy favorite in the Bashford Manor. But somehow I doubt he will be, instead starting around 5-2 or so.

Because he has made two of his three starts at Woodbine in Canada, my guess is that the public will question the competition he has faced.

Sure, he also won his maiden at Churchill on May 26, but he did so at 12-1 odds that day. He didn't capture their attention that day, and they might underrate him again, although not to such an extent.

As with Wonderful Luck, I am encouraged by the professionalism he showed in shipping and winning, as he did in taking the Victoria Stakes at Woodbine on June 17. A lot of horses lose something when traveling to race (need I mention Lava Man?), and 2-year-olds are a little more susceptible to regressing when shipping.

So it is to be expected to see Kodiak Kowboy run faster Saturday at Churchill, his home base, than he did in winning the Victoria with a 76 Beyer. He already ran an 86 Beyer in winning his maiden at Churchill, and that figure is the highest posted by any horse in the field.

Don't be surprised to see the public jump all over Motovato, a colt that won his lone start, at Delaware Park on May 5, by nine lengths. Purchased privately by Edmund Gann and Michael Zerolo after the race and turned over to Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher, he will have loads of supporters.

He is adding Lasix and has trained quickly at Pletcher's Belmont base in preparation for the Bashford Manor.

But I would rather take the proven horse, a battle-tested runner like Kodiak Kowboy.