02/13/2007 12:00AM

O'Neill has Liquidity on deck


Trainer Doug O'Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam probably will have a horse for the March 10 Louisiana Derby - just not the horse one might expect.

While Notional won the Risen Star Stakes last Saturday at Fair Grounds, and still was there awaiting a flight home as of Tuesday, O'Neill said he was more likely to send Liquidity to New Orleans for the Louisiana Derby. Liquidity most recently finished a close second to Ravel in the Feb. 4 Sham Stakes at Santa Anita.

"Liquidity might be the one we're thinking of bringing back for the La Derby," O'Neill said Tuesday morning from California. "The idea would be to kind of alternate travel with them, not keep the same horse on the road every four weeks."

O'Neill also has Great Hunter, third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, as a potential Kentucky Derby hopeful.

Notional, who won Saturday's race by 2 1/4 lengths for his second straight graded stakes tally, was bedded down in trainer Neil Howard's Fair Grounds barn. He had been scheduled to fly home Tuesday, but had his return trip delayed by a day.

"They said he came out of it great," said O'Neill, who after Saturday's race praised the Howard barn's accommodating ambience. "Neil said he looks fantastic."

O'Neill said he had no specific plans for Notional, other than "bringing him home and letting him regroup."

"There all kinds of options for him," O'Neill said.

Asmussen stacked with talent

Trainer Steve Asmussen won seven races last Fair Grounds racing week - three on Sunday alone - bumping to 20 his Fair Grounds total only about a month after returning from a suspension. But that was only part of the story. Asmussen won two of the five stakes races on Saturday, taking the Silverbulletday with Appealing Zophie - who looks like a prime contender for the Fair Grounds Oaks - and the Taylor's Special Handicap with Gaff. He also finished third in the Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup with fast-closing Storm Treasure and third in the Risen Star Stakes with Zanjero. And Tuesday morning, despite a wet racetrack, the impressive Gulfstream maiden winner Curlin had his first work since being transferred to Asmussen's Fair Grounds string. Curlin worked a half-mile on a track labeled sloppy in 49.80 seconds.

"We tried out the track with the first set [of the morning], it was great, so we sent him with the second set," Asmussen said. "He went 50 easy as can be."

Asmussen said he has no specific race set for Curlin, but plans call for the colt to stretch out to two turns when he next races.

Plans are more settled for Asmussen's 3-year-olds who raced Saturday: Appealing Zophie will run back in the Fair Grounds Oaks, Zanjero in the Louisiana Derby.

Appealing Zophie got away with dictating a ridiculously slow pace in the 1 1/16-mile Silverbulletday (the half-mile time was 49.80 seconds), and showed that under the right circumstances she can stay out a two-turn distance. At 2, Appealing Zophie won the Grade 1 Spinaway at seven furlongs, but lost all three of her starts at two turns. She won the Silverbulletday by more than four lengths over Total, and clocked a final time .05 of a second faster than Notional's winning time in the Risen Star.

"The filly handled wonderfully over the winter," Asmussen said. "She had some nice long works in her. She's a talented horse who was going good."

Asmussen made no excuses for Zanjero, who seized the lead at the top of the stretch in the Risen Star but was passed by Notional and edged for second by late-running Imawildandcrazyguy.

"It wasn't fitness that beat Zanjero, it was other horses," said Asmussen. "He's going to have to run back better in the Louisiana Derby."

A horse whose time has come

It might seem unusual for a horse to win his first open stakes race at age 7, but to look upon Cloudy's Knight is to see the phrase "late-developer" embodied in horseflesh. No way this horse was going to reach his peak at something like age 3 or 4.

Cloudy's Knight just missed winning two graded stakes during the fall of 2004, but he was away from racing between September 2005 and September 2006. The gelding, first under trainer Frank Kirby and this winter with the young trainer Jim McMullen, has crept back toward peak form, and won his first open stakes on Saturday when he captured the Grade 3 Fair Grounds Breeders' Cup by a neck.

McMullen reported Tuesday that Cloudy's Knight had come out of the race in good physical condition, but that there were no definite plans for his next start.

The obvious local spot would be the $500,000 Mervin Muniz on March 10, but McMullen would commit to no more than a nomination to that spot, which is likely to attract a significantly tougher group than the one Cloudy's Knight beat Saturday.

"We're going to nominate and take a look at it with him," McMullen said. "It depends on who goes in there."