08/26/2009 11:00PM

Kensei looking for a little respect

Barbara D. Livingston
Kensei followed up his Dwyer victory by winning the Jim Dandy, his first race around two turns.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Rachel, Rachel, Rachel, It's all anyone wants to talk about at trainer Steve Asmussen's barn. It's like an edition of "Friends." People want to get pictures of Rachel. People want to espy her in her stall. People want to talk to Asmussen about her.

On Wednesday morning, someone asked Asmussen about Kensei.

"You mean Rodney Dangerfield?" he replied, laughing. "He is overshadowed, to say the least. He has not had as many photo ops. His social calendar is pending."

His level of respect, photo opportunities, and future dates could change radically on Saturday, when Kensei goes for the biggest win of his career in the Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes at 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga. With consecutive stakes victories in , he is a worthy stand-in for Asmussen and owner Jess Jackson for Rachel Alexandra, who is awaiting next week's Grade 1 Woodward Stakes.

"He earned an opportunity in the Jim Dandy off his race in the Dwyer, and he earned an opportunity in the Travers off his race in the Jim Dandy," Asmussen said. "The Jim Dandy was his first race around two turns. The race didn't unfold perfectly - he was on the bridle, a little keen - but he still ran well and won. Now we have to ask the question of whether he can go a mile and a quarter. We'll know Saturday shortly before 6 o'clock."

Kensei, a bay with a small thumbprint of a star between his eyes, is a big, strong son of Mr. Greeley who stands over a lot of ground. He was purchased by bloodstock agent John Moynihan, on behalf of Jackson, for $300,000 in May 2008 at Barretts in Southern California. He was so highly regarded that his breeders, the Gulf Coast Farm of Jerry Bailey and Lance Robinson, stayed in for 25 percent after selling him.

The investment has paid off. Not only is Kensei thriving, but his 2-year-old half-brother, Lookin at Lucky, who is also out of the dam Private Feeling, is unbeaten and a top contender for next month's Del Mar Futurity.

"Jerry said if you buy him, we absolutely, unequivocally want to stay in," Moynihan said Wednesday morning. "With their track record, they're usually right more than they're wrong. I had seen the colt at their farm earlier in the year. They thought he was one of their best colts."

Bailey is not related to the former Hall of Fame jockey of the same name. Asmussen has both men on his cell phone.

"I've called Jerry Bailey by mistake to tell him how his horse is doing," Asmussen said. "They both have Florida numbers."

Kensei broke into the game with a splash, winning .

"He came back a little off behind," Asmussen said. After recuperating at Bailey's farm, and then Jackson's Stonestreet Farm, Kensei was put back in training by Bailey before heading to Asmussen's Fair Grounds barn earlier this year.

"We were unfortunate not to get an allowance race to go for him there," Asmussen said.

Kensei had to go to , before his last two wins.

"When he ran at Churchill Downs, he was a little flat, and Hull was very good then," Asmussen said. "The Derby Trial was disappointing, but it wasn't a horrible race. And then he had to face Munnings going seven furlongs."

The wins in the Dwyer and Jim Dandy have put Kensei in position to bid for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male. Should either he, Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, or Quality Road, the Florida Derby winner, capture the Travers, they will move to the head of the pack.

"Everybody's there," Asmussen said.