04/13/2004 12:00AM

No surprise: Asmussen is loaded


GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - No trainer comes into the Lone Star Park meet hotter than Steve Asmussen. He is the nation's leading trainer in wins, and in the last three weeks has collected titles at Fair Grounds, Sam Houston Race Park, and Sunland Park.

Asmussen also won with more than 40 percent of his starters at the Oaklawn meet that closed last Saturday, and, with that kind of momentum behind him, seems poised to recapture the training title at Lone Star Park.

Asmussen won the title from 1999-2002 before finishing second in the standings last meet to Cole Norman. Asmussen started fewer horses at the meet last year than he had in several seasons, and he expects that will again be the case this meet, partly because he has increased the size of his stable's presence in Kentucky.

Still, the local Asmussen barn is considered one of the deepest on the grounds, and it is filled with owners who have ties to Texas. That leads one to believe Asmussen will be strong in all categories, from the stakes and allowance ranks to various statebred divisions.

"Things are going really well, and we want to keep them going that way," he said.

Asmussen jumped out to a fast start in the national trainer standings this year. He had won 162 races through Monday, while Scott Lake, who is second in the nation in wins, had won 93 races. Asmussen's runaway lead seems to be the result of more aggressive management of horses in 2004.

"We're not going to sit around and wait on races anywhere," he said. "If [races] don't go, the [horses] are going to move to where they can run. That's what we've aimed to do for a period of time. From my point of view, the most frustrating thing is when you have one ready to run and the race doesn't go somewhere."

Asmussen has positioned himself to take advantage of increased purses in the region, some of them fueled by slots revenues. In recent months, he has raced at such tracks at Sunland, Delta Downs, and Evangeline Downs. On Feb. 7, Asmussen won 10 races from 16 starters at five different tracks.

Calhoun picks up Hi Teck Man

Hi Teck Man, upset winner of the $500,000 WinStar Derby in his last start, arrived at trainer Bret Calhoun's barn Monday night. He was recently transferred to Calhoun, and is being pointed for the $75,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge for 3-year-olds on April 24.

"He's never been on the grass, but he's by a son of Majestic Light and [his sire], Claudius, was a grass horse himself," said Calhoun.

Hassel and Bonnie Spraberry own Hi Teck Man and sent him to Calhoun. In his last start, Hi Teck Man won the WinStar at 46-1 for trainer Johnnie Nall. Overall, Hi Teck Man has won six races and close to $400,000.

Calhoun said Hi Teck Man was bred in Texas, and that he is accredited and eligible for statebred races. The Spraberrys bred and own Hi Teck Man, and they live in Texas.

"He's an athletic-looking horse," said Calhoun. "He's a good-looking horse."

Calhoun, who tied for second in the trainer standings at the Fair Grounds meet, has 50 horses based at Lone Star. Last year he finished third in the Lone Star standings with 51 wins from 160 starters. He was the meet's highest win percentage trainer, having won with 32 percent of his starters at Lone Star.

Saturday, he plans to start Janeian in the $75,000 Irving Distaff.

Texas Mile likely for Crafty Shaw

Crafty Shaw, who is approaching $1 million in earnings, could make his next start in the Grade 3, $300,000 Texas Mile at Lone Star on April 24. Trainer Pete Vestal said he plans to work Crafty Shaw at Churchill Downs on Monday, and if a flight can be arranged, he would like to send Crafty Shaw for the Texas Mile.

In his last start, Crafty Shaw finished a game second to Spanish Empire in the Grade 3, $100,000 Fifth Season Breeders' Cup at Oaklawn on April 7. Overall, he has won 14 of 38 starts and $924,440. Crafty Shaw races for Oaklawn president Charles Cella.

Vestal said if Crafty Shaw does not run in the Texas Mile, another option is the Grade 3, $100,000 Hanshin Cup at Arlington Park on May 29.

Pie N Burger, who won the Grade 3, $300,000 Lone Star Park Handicap last year en route to being named horse of the meet, is being pointed for the Texas Mile, said his trainer, Cole Norman.

Meet attracts new stables

There are several new stables at Lone Star this meet. The dynamics of the region have changed this year, and for six weeks this meet, Lone Star and Louisiana Downs will overlap. Louisiana Downs, which has installed slot machines, is opening May 14 this year instead of its typical opening date at the end of June.

The longer overlap has led some Lone Star regulars to return to their home state of Louisiana, in part because Louisiana Downs will race through the fall and Lone Star will close in July. Horses are expected to shuttle between the two tracks, however, on a regular basis. It is a four-hour van ride between Lone Star and Louisiana Downs.

"Our racing office has done a great job recruiting new stables," said Corey Johnsen, president of Lone Star. "We will have over 40 new stables. The other thing I've seen is our local top outfits have really improved the quality of their horses, so I'm very optimistic for the season."

Lone Star drew full fields for its opening day card. New trainers at the meet include Ramon Gonzalez, a six-time leading trainer at Sunland Park, Martin Lozano, Jess Alley, Zachary Armstrong, Jason Coyote, and Roger Engel. The jockey colony this meet will include Eddie Martin Jr., Jamie Theriot, Cliff Berry, Jeremy Beasley, Gerard Melancon, and Roman Chapa.

A fast start planned

Julie Krone, Willie Nelson, and the Beach Boys have all been lined up to help usher in the meet. Krone, a Hall of Fame rider, will make appearances and sign autographs Thursday. Nelson will give a post-race concert Friday, and the Beach Boys will do the same Saturday.

The hope is that the celebrities will get people excited and out to the races early in the meet. Lone Star has planned a Breeders' Cup hat giveaway on April 24, and the Kentucky Derby is the draw the following weekend, on May 1.

"You get people in the habit, and then they return to the track throughout the year," said Johnsen.

* Lone Star's races will go into New York OTB for the entire meet, said Johnsen.