04/30/2006 11:00PM

Oaks spots open up for Ermine, 'Red Cherries'

Diplomat Lady runs in the Oaks.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It looks as if everybody who wanted into the Kentucky Oaks is going to make it. Two fillies from a list of 16 hopefuls dropped from contention over the weekend, leaving precisely the Oaks limit of 14.

Ready to Please, the Fantasy Stakes winner trained by Todd Pletcher, and Press Camp, based in northern California with Billy Morey, are the defectors, allowing Ermine and Red Cherries Spin to make the prospective Oaks lineup. Entries for the 132nd Oaks, which will be run Friday at Churchill Downs, were to be drawn Tuesday.

Pletcher said Sunday that he was skipping the Oaks with Ready to Please primarily because of the timing of the race. Pletcher said after the April 14 Fantasy that he was inclined to wait for the June 10 Acorn Stakes at Belmont Park, but he wanted to see how Ready to Please trained at Churchill before counting her out. Pletcher will still run Wait a While in the Oaks.

Morey said Monday that Press Camp "has not been right the last two days" and that he did not feel good about shipping her cross-country to run in a race for which she probably would not have been 100 percent.

Diplomat Lady was the lone Oaks worker Monday, going a half-mile in 51.20 seconds over a track rated muddy. Trainer Chris Paasch waited to work her until just a few minutes before the track closed at 10 a.m. because he wanted Alex Solis, who will ride Diplomat Lady in the Oaks, to be aboard for the work. Solis had just finished working Brother Derek, the Kentucky Derby favorite, and was late for that work because he got lost driving to the track.

Asmussen sends four in Kentucky BC

Since Steve Asmussen just won seven of the 12 2-year-old maiden races run at the three-week Keeneland meet, it comes as no surprise that he has more than a single horse to start Thursday in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes.

But four of them?

Yes, Asmussen has four of the 12 horses entered Monday in the Kentucky BC, a five-furlong race for 2-year-olds. His barrage comprises Sequoia King, a 4 1/2-length Keeneland winner; Sentry, a 6 1/2-length Keeneland winner; Datrick, a 7 1/2-length Keeneland maiden winner; and Fortunate Envoy, who finished a wide fifth behind Sentry in his lone start. Also entered were two other Keeneland winners and a pair of two-furlong Santa Anita maiden winners.

And, of course, there are other waves of Asmussen 2-year-olds still to come. In fact, he won the first race at Churchill on Sunday with Napa Cat, who may be every bit as good as any of the Keeneland horses. An $800,000 Storm Cat colt owned by Stonestreet Stables, Napa Cat raced a couple of lengths off a fast pace and finished well to beat Inca King, a stubborn first-timer, by 1 1/2 lengths, running four furlongs in a snappy 52 seconds.

"He has unlimited potential," Asmussen said of Napa Cat. "Him being a Storm Cat, we're going to give him a few more schooling lessons before we map anything out."

Also on Thursday's card is the Mamzelle Stakes, a five-furlong turf sprint for fillies and mares. The prospective 11-horse field includes two-time defending champion Nicole's Dream, who ships in from Chicago.

Capeside Lady to Louisville BC

In a sport in which most racing partnerships are geared around young horses, Dapple Stable's ownership of Capeside Lady falls outside of the norm. A 5-year-old Cape Town mare, she was purchased by Dapple last November at the Keeneland breeding stock sale as a racing or broodmare prospect for $700,000, making her the cornerstone investment of a broodmare partnership that Dapple organized.

The Dapple partnership also purchased four pregnant mares last November, and they aim to profitably resell the mares and their offspring over roughly a three-year time frame.

As for Capeside Lady, breeding and selling can wait. Already a stakes winner this year, she looms a contender in Friday's Grade 2, $300,000 Louisville Breeders' Cup on the Kentucky Oaks undercard.

Capeside Lady, the champion New York-bred older mare of 2005, is expected to face seven or eight rivals in the 1 1/16-mile Louisville Breeders' Cup, led by likely favorite Oonagh Maccool, winner of the Grade 2 Rampart Handicap on March 25. Track officials also expect Gallant Secret, In the Gold, La Reason, Private Gift, Pussycat Doll, and Sweet Symphony for the race. Leave Me Alone is considered a possible starter and is likely to be entered in the Louisville Breeders' Cup and Saturday's Grade 1 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong race on Saturday's Kentucky Derby undercard, according to Donnie Richardson, Churchill's senior vice president of racing.

Mike Akers, chairman of Dapple Bloodstock, said he felt compelled to buy Capeside Lady on the basis of her clean X-rays and attractive looks. "She came out of her stall, and I was like, 'Wow,' " he said.

Given a rest following her 4-year-old campaign, she won her first start for Dapple and trainer Steve Asmussen in the Bayakoa Stakes on April 9 at Oaklawn Park. Last year, when she was trained by Todd Pletcher for the So Madcapt Stable, Capeside Lady won the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Handicap and closed out 2005 with a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Spinster and a sixth-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Distaff.

Protagonus to have ankle surgery

Protagonus, the Nick Zito-trained colt who broke down Saturday as the 2-1 second choice in the Derby Trial, was scheduled to undergo surgery Tuesday for a fractured sesamoid in his right front ankle at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Lexington.

Typically, such a serious injury means a horse will not race again. Protagonus was the second promising 3-year-old that Zito and owner Kinsman Stable lost in April. Three weeks earlier, Beacon Shine was euthanized at Churchill after falling severely ill with colic.

* Southwestern Heat, the first foal of Xtra Heat, finished third in his career debut in the first race Sunday at Churchill. Southwestern Heat, a Gone West colt trained by Dale Romans, had a sluggish start before rallying to finish 4 1/2 lengths behind the odds-on winner, Napa Cat.

Xtra Heat, trained by John Salzman Sr., won 26 of 35 starts and nearly $2.4 million during a remarkable three-year career than ended in February 2003.

* Several Churchill trainers were short on help Monday morning, when the nationally organized "Day Without Immigrants," a boycott by Latino immigrants, was held. Dale Romans, trainer of Kentucky Derby prospect Sharp Humor, said three of his Latino employees did not show for work. Trainers Paul McGee and Greg Foley were also missing workers.

- additional reporting by Marcus Hersh and Byron King