02/20/2008 12:00AM

Jones's filly can't avoid Asmussen


Larry Jones surely is not the only one to notice it. Chances are that a trainer with a live horse in a Fair Grounds race is going to have to beat Steve Asmussen.

Jones trains a pretty decent filly named Royal Diana, who ran what in many cases would've been a winning race in an entry-level sprint allowance on Feb. 3 in New Orleans. Good, but not good enough, as the Asmussen-trained Twisted Tale wore down Royal Diana in the final half-furlong. Royal Diana is back at the same class level in Friday's featured ninth race at Fair Grounds - and so is Asmussen. This time, the Asmussen stable sends out Lady Hillingdon, a six-length maiden winner at Churchill Downs the last time she raced.

"Steve could feel free to drop out at about any time," Jones said with a laugh.

Jones, however, made another more serious point. Both he and Asmussen have plenty of young stock to enter in these 3-year-old allowance races.

"Seems as if one of us doesn't have a horse in there, the races don't go," he said.

Asmussen came out of the last racing week - ending Monday - with 68 wins at the meet, thus remaining within range of Jack Van Berg's Fair Grounds meet-record 92 victories. Including Friday, there are 19 racing days left in the meet, but Asmussen has averaged well over a winner a day so far this season.

Twisted Tale hadn't started since Saratoga when she beat Royal Diana, so Lady Hillingdon's three-month break can't really be seen as a major concern. Lady Hillingdon, a Padua Stables homebred by Vindication, shows six recent workouts for her start Friday and displayed a stalking style in Kentucky last fall that could play well in this six-furlong race.

Royal Diana failed to sustain a rally from just off the pace in a two-turn turf race on Jan. 6, and has gone to the front in her two dirt sprint starts. Barring a change in tactics, she could face pace pressure Friday from Top Story and maybe Geeska, who was claimed out of a win for the Asmussen barn in her last race.

"I'm not saying she can't rate," Jones said. "Last time, we thought our best hope was that Asmussen's horse wasn't 100 percent tuned up for the deal, and that if we kept the pressure on her, she might weaken. That didn't work. In this filly's turf race, it wasn't a major issue getting her back. She'll do whatever you want."

Top Story also has a shot. She was making her first start in five months when she finished third in a Jan. 20 entry-level sprint allowance race.