02/13/2008 12:00AM

J Be K joins Asmussen's star lineup


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Steve Asmussen just sent out the one-two finishers in the Risen Star Stakes last Saturday at Fair Grounds, winning the race with Pyro, who is no worse than the second-favorite for the Kentucky Derby at this still-early date. On Friday, Asmussen sends Curlin, the world's top-rated horse, on a journey to the Middle East for a chance at international glory in the Dubai World Cup. And still waiting in Asmussen's Fair Grounds arsenal are horses like Kodiak Kowboy and Zanjero.

No surprise that when looking at the featured eighth race here on Friday, the cliche about the rich getting richer leaps directly to mind. A new arrival to the Asmussen barn, J Be K, figures to be something like a 1-5 favorite to win an entry-level sprint allowance for 3-year-olds.

J Be K is owned by Ahmed Zayat, who reportedly grew disenchanted with California's synthetic racing surfaces and pulled his top 3-year-olds out of trainer Bob Baffert's barn, sending them to horsemen operating on conventional dirt tracks. Asmussen began training for Zayat last summer, and handles the Zayat-owned Z Fortune, who won the Lecomte and was second to Pyro in the Risen Star. Now, he has J Be K, who was among the most impressive 2-year-old winners of the Saratoga meet last summer.

J Be K is by Silver Deputy and out of a mare by Valid Wager, giving him a middle-distance pedigree at best. But while J Be K might be a longshot to make it onto the Kentucky Derby trail, there's no doubt he's fast. Debuting last Aug. 29, J Be K made the early lead in a 5 1/2-furlong race, and widened his advantage at every call, eventually coming home a 7 1/2-length winner. He has not raced since, but has been breezing steadily over Santa Anita's synthetic surface.

There are a couple potential pitfalls for those viewing J Be K as a sure thing in a six-horse field. First, he is drawn on the rail, and there is speed to his outside. J Be K may be fast enough to shake loose, but he may not be.

Secondly, J Be K only arrived here days ago, meaning he has gotten in no dirt works for his comeback. In Chicago last year, many horsemen moving from Polytrack at Arlington to a demanding dirt surface at Hawthorne found that horses plenty fit to race at Arlington were gasping for breath at Hawthorne.

None of those animals, it should be noted, had routed maiden special weight foes in their Saratoga debut.