05/25/2013 2:44PM

Lone Star: Master Rick, Prayer for Relief give Asmussen pair of aces for Handicap


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas – Steve Asmussen has left few prizes unclaimed at his home track of Lone Star Park, where he ranks as the all-time winningest trainer with 1,043 local victories and $23 million in stable earnings. But one major stakes has eluded Asmussen, and on Monday he appears primed to win his first Lone Star Park Handicap.

Asmussen has the top two choices in the Grade 3, $300,000 race, Master Rick and Prayer for Relief. The horses were 1-2 in last month’s Grade 3, $200,000 Texas Mile, the local stepping-stone to the Lone Star Handicap. Monday’s race is the richest of the meet, and for its 17th running it goes with five older horses. Other set to start are Isn’t He Clever, a four-time stakes winner coming off a track-record performance at Sunland Park; Battle Hardened, winner of last year’s Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and Formaggio, who exits a key allowance at Lone Star.

Master Rick won the Texas Mile by 1 1/4 lengths April 27 to earn a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 105. Prayer for Relief was second in his first start since September and put up one of his best lifetime Beyer Figures, a 103. The race was the first at Lone Star for both Master Rick and Prayer for Relief.

“Hopefully, they’ll both be able to duplicate what were top efforts from them,” Asmussen said. “I definitely like how they have a race over the track. There’s a lot of positives.”

:: LONE STAR HANDICAP: Complete coverage

Master Rick was an authoritative Texas Mile winner and as such he should go favored in the Lone Star, which will be run over 1 1/16 miles. He is the 118-pound starting highweight, and will be seeking his third straight win in a streak that began in a mile allowance at Oaklawn on Feb. 28.

“He’s in top form,” Asmussen said. “Obviously, most of his success has come at a mile, but with him running so well over the track, and the financial opportunity, this race made sense.”

As for Prayer for Relief, he has a key factor working in his favor.

“A race in him,” said Asmussen. “I thought it was a very good comeback race.”

In addition, the added distance Prayer for Relief picks up off the Texas Mile, a race in which he was favored, will be a plus for him Monday.

“He’s made most of his money at a mile and a sixteenth, a mile and an eighth,” noted Asmussen.

Isn’t He Clever won the 6 1/2-furlong Bill Thomas Memorial in 1:13.45 at Sunland in his last start March 24, lowering the track record of 1:13.95 that had been set in February 2009. For the win, Isn’t He Clever earned a Beyer Figure of 98.

“He ran really super,” said Henry Dominguez, who trains Isn’t He Clever. “He ran to his ability. He stalked and made his big move like he does.”

Isn’t He Clever on Monday will be stretching back out to two turns and the last time he routed he won the $50,000 Ruidoso Thoroughbred Derby by 13 lengths in September. It came over 1 1/16 miles, as did his win in last year’s $150,000 Borderland Derby at Sunland.

“He’s run well at the [Lone Star Handicap] distance before,” said Dominguez.

Battle Hardened is seeking his third straight win following allowance scores at Sunland on April 14 and Lone Star on May 18. Formaggio was third last out in allowance that produced Polka Joke, a next-out stakes winner at Will Rogers Downs, and Omniscient, a next-out optional $40,000 claiming winner at Lone Star.