05/18/2006 12:00AM

He's Got Grit from proven barn


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Look through the four-year history of the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs, and one trainer's name keeps popping up: Steve Asmussen.

Saturday's $100,000 Matt Winn is no different. For the fifth year in a row, Asmussen has a representative in the race - his entrant Saturday being the returning He's Got Grit, the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field that also includes such useful sprinters as Court Folly, Changing Weather, Deputy G, and Skeleton Crew.

Based on history, the Asmussen-trained He's Got Grit should be a factor. Three of Asmussen's four other Matt Winn starters ended up as part of the exacta, the exception being Richest Half, who ran sixth in the inaugural running in 2002. Posse and Razor won for Asmussen in 2003 and 2005, respectively, and Cuvee ran second in the 2004 running.

, competing for his first time as a 3-year-old after last racing in the fall, fits well. Perfect in four starts at age 2, he is well suited to the six-furlong distance of the Matt Winn - which plays to his speedy, front-running style.

Winner of the Tyro, Grade 3 Sapling, and Cowdin Stakes, He's Got Grit is also proven over the Churchill Downs surface. Debuting here last June in a 4 1/2-furlong dash for maiden $80,000 claimers, he won by 3 1/4 lengths, covering the distance in a track-record 50.73 seconds.

Asmussen said he intentionally freshened He's Got Grit, a Songandaprayer gelding owned and bred by Curtis Green, after the horse won the Cowdin on Oct. 2 at Belmont. He said he felt the horse wouldn't be well suited to the longer juvenile races or to preps leading up to the Derby.

Away more than seven months, He's Got Grit breezed five furlongs in 59 seconds May 9 - a fast work which Asmussen felt was needed to prepare for the Matt Winn. "There are some fast horses in there," he said.

The layoff-into-stakes move is not a statistical strength for Asmussen - nor would it figure to be for any trainer. Over the last five years, he is 2 for 21 in stakes races with horses returning off layoffs of 180 days or more. Several ran well without winning, including Cuvee in this race two years ago, when he returned from a break of 196 days.

Shaun Bridgmohan rides.

An abundance of speed in the field should benefit the late-running , who ran last behind Sinister Minister in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass at Keeneland, but who has good sprint form. He closed to be third behind Sharp Humor in the Grade 2 Swale at Gulfstream in March.