11/12/2007 1:00AM

Old road warrior loves to win

EmailThe big horse of the Steve Asmussen stable has been walking the shed row at Churchill Downs for about 45 minutes every morning, keeping things low key while his people decide whether or not Breeders' Cup Classic winner Curlin will be a 4-year-old racehorse or a 4-year-old stud horse in 2008. The only thing certain right now is that he will be Horse of the Year.

In the meantime, the little big horse of the Asmussen stable is still hard at work. Just last Friday, at Retama Park, 8-year-old Golden Hare won his 12th race of the 2007 season to lead all Thoroughbreds in that department. He did it with style, leading at every call to win the 5 1/2-furlong starter allowance event by nearly three lengths and banking $4,200 for his owner, the Scott Blasi Racing Stable.

That's Scott Blasi, as in Steve Asmussen's chief assistant and alter ego in the sprawling Asmussen training empire. It was Blasi who bankrolled the $3,500 claim of Golden Hare in August 2006 at Remington Park, while Asmussen was otherwise occupied with his six months' worth of suspensions for medication violations. And it was Blasi listed as trainer as Golden Hare proceeded to rip off five straight wins at the end of the year to celebrate his new environment.

With Asmussen back in the driver's seat, Golden Hare began his 2007 by winning a race on Jan. 26 at Oaklawn Park. He went on to win at least one race at Sam Houston, Evangeline Downs, Churchill Downs, Indiana Downs, Ellis Park, Turfway Park, Remington Park, and Delta Downs before nailing number 12 at Retama.

"And I hope he's not through yet," Blasi said from Churchill Downs. "You've got to remember, my trainer has a condition book for everywhere. It's because the horse is part of this organization that makes it possible for all the places he can run.

"In fact, he's kind of the barn pet," Blasi added, clearly referring to the vast Asmussen umbrella. "Every one of our stables has had him at one time or another. Darren Fleming, Kristen Crawford, Billy Lopes - they've all run him, and me here at Churchill."

The beauty of the starter allowance system - at least when you own a horse like Golden Hare - is the fact that the races, if they fill, can end up at the mercy of a horse like Golden Hare, who was once on the path of a graded stakes winner. He was beaten just two lengths in the 2002 running of the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita.

At the time Blasi claimed Golden Hare, however, he had not won a race for nearly four years. There had been two long layoffs and a few noble tries, but on paper he was a 7-year-old gelding who had not seen competition for 14 months.

"He finished second in the race we claimed him," Blasi noted. "The next morning I asked Darren [Fleming] what was wrong with him. He told me he couldn't find anything wrong. Whatever it was must have been taken care of turning him out all that time. Then he came back and won, and won again. There's nothing better for the mind of a horse with some back class than to start winning again."

Richard Mandella can confirm Golden Hare's intrinsic quality. He was there when it first emerged. The Hall of Famer trained Golden Hare in 2002 and 2003 for owner Toby Keith, who is known for his ability to sing both country and western tunes. Keith, racing as Dream Walkin Farms, paid $145,000 for Golden Hare as a yearling.

"He was a nice horse," Mandella confirmed. "He had a couple things going on, though - a foot that needed to grow out and just a little bit of a knee problem that wasn't serious. The owners took him back to Oklahoma to freshen him up and never sent him back."

No one is confusing Golden Hare, a son of champion 2-year-old Gilded Time, with a top horse. He did manage to win the Claiming Crown Express at Ellis Park in August, but the event was made for such runners. The rest of his victories have come in low-level starter allowance races, for which he is eligible because he ran for that $3,500 tag.

If Golden Hare can run up a couple more wins for 2007, his total will fit nicely with the leaders of the list over the last 30 years, which range anywhere from 10 to 17, and include such noteworthy individuals as D'Wildcat Speed (12 for 12 in 2003), Gene (16 for 24 in 1988), and T.V. Vixen (13 for 16 in 1976).

As for the rewards of such hard work, since he was claimed by Blasi, Golden Hare has earned his blue-collar owner about $160,000. Surely, that's enough to consider retiring to a life of Thoroughbred ownership?

"I wish," Blasi replied with a laugh. "My standard of living has got more expensive, that's the problem.

"With him, I was just lucky," Blasi added. "There have been a few claims that didn't work out near as good. Anyway, I sure don't want to change trainers."