07/03/2002 12:00AM

It's Baffert vs. Asmussen in Iowa Derby


ALTOONA, Iowa - Rarely do two of the nation's leading trainers square off at Prairie Meadows, but that is what will happen in Friday's $250,000 Iowa Derby, when Bob Baffert sends out Danthebluegrassman against the Steve Asmussen-trained Easyfromthegitgo.

The Iowa Derby card also includes the $125,000 Saylorville Stakes for fillies at six furlongs.

Danthebluegrassman was Baffert's leading Kentucky Derby hopeful as late as early April, but he finished last of eight in the Santa Anita Derby and then was a late scratch from the Kentucky Derby.

Danthebluegrassman returned to the races with a 2 1/2-length victory in the June 15 Northern Dancer Stakes, going a mile at Churchill Downs. The victory was Danthebluegrassman's third stakes win and fourth victory from nine career starts. He has earned more than $248,000.

Baffert and owner Mike Pegram, who are both expected here for the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby, won the race with Captain Steve in 2000. Jorge Chavez will be aboard Danthebluegrassman in the Iowa Derby.

Unlike Danthebluegrassman, Easyfromthegitgo did make a start in a Triple Crown race, finishing a closing fifth, beaten 3 1/2 lengths, to War Emblem in the Preakness.

Easyfromthegitgo scored a nose victory in the Lecomte Stakes at Fair Grounds in January and then finished third to Repent in the Risen Star there in February. Easyfromthegitgo's best race came in his next start, when he finished second, beaten a nose by Repent, in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby.

Following the Preakness, Easyfromthgitgo finished fourth in the Grade 3 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park, beaten 1 1/4 lengths as the 4-5 favorite.

Asmussen expects Easyfromthegitgo to be a bit closer to the pace in the Iowa Derby than he has been in his past few starts.

"He had a tough trip in Delaware last time," said Asmussen, who leads the nation in wins. "We need to start making our own luck with his horse."

Easyfromthegitgo completed his preparation for the Iowa Derby with a half-mile breeze in 49.20 seconds at Churchill on Tuesday morning, according to Asmussen. He arrived here by plane on Wednesday morning. Asmussen will be here Friday to give regular rider Donnie Meche a leg up.

Completing the field are stakes-placed Pass Rush, ridden by Pat Day and trained by Patrick Byrne; Thunderpumper; and locally based stakes winner Vito Corleone.

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