04/04/2006 11:00PM

Perennial leaders go toe to toe


Steve Asmussen and Cole Norman, whose rivalry has spanned the Mid-South region from Lone Star Park to Louisiana Downs to the current hotly contested battle for top trainer at Oaklawn Park, take their act under the lights Friday night as they send out the top two contenders in the $75,000 Hallowed Dreams Stakes at Evangeline Downs. There are seven 3-year-old fillies in the field for 5 1/2-furlong headliner.

Asmussen's representative in the Hallowed Dreams is 6-5 morning-line favorite Shimmering Sunset. A daughter of Exchange Rate, Shimmering Sunset has started five times, all at different racetracks. She graduated from the maiden ranks at Arlington Park at first asking late last summer and won in optional claiming company at Louisiana Downs in December. Her most recent start came at Sunland, where she finished second in the El Paso Times Handicap. Tracy Hebert rides on Friday.

My Silver Charm will be making her stakes debut for Norman off a solid second-place finish in a first-level optional claimer at Oaklawn on March 18. A Silver Charm filly, My Silver Charm has failed to finish second or better just one time in her five-race career and is the second choice on the morning line at 2-1. She has proven that she can race from off the pace, which should serve her well with an abundance of early speed to run at. Norman has given the riding assignment to Gerald Melancon.


The hottest trainer at Fairmount this past week was Tom Trione Jr., who catapulted into third place in the standings after saddling six winners in a three-day span. Trione, who was 2 for 24 to start the meet, won four races last Friday and notched two more victories on Tuesday.

Three of Trione's six winners had something in common - they were making their second starts following a layoff of between 45 and 180 days. Bettors looking to cash with Trione have found that to be a highly productive angle the last couple of seasons, and the three winners who fit the profile paid nicely: Smarkey's Girl ($8.80), General George S ($23.60), and Runaway Warrior ($19.60).

* Jockeys Roberto Villafan and Rafael Hernandez, the leading riders through the first 10 days of the meet, both had four-win days this past week. Villafan had his on Friday, while Hernandez accomplished the feat on Tuesday. Villafan leads Hernandez 20-14 through Tuesday's program.

* Friday's featured fourth-level allowance, with a $14,500 claiming option, features a rematch between Goldfellow and Peace and Joy, the one-two finishers at the same condition on March 24. The speedy Peace and Joy, who faded late that day after getting pressured early, might have an easier time of it Friday as he appears to be the lone speed.

- Vance Hanson

Finger Lakes

When Finger Lakes opens its season next Friday, Jeff LaRue will be operating the starting gate.

LaRue, a son of Kentucky-based trainer Bobby LaRue, is replacing Art "Duke" Green, who died at age 69 in January after serving as the track's head starter since 1987.

LaRue has 19 years of racetrack experience in various roles, including assistant starter at Beulah Park, The Woodlands, Keeneland, Louisiana Downs, Fair Grounds, and, since 1997, Finger Lakes.

Green spent 20 years as a jockey, leading the standings at Scarborough Downs in Maine and Waterford Park (now Mountaineer) in West Virginia before retiring in 1972 to accept a job as assistant starter at Green Mountain in Vermont.

* Daniel Centeno, third in last season's jockey standings at Finger Lakes with 113 wins, is moving his tack to Delaware Park this spring.

- Joe DeVivo

Fonner Park

With a four-win day last Friday and a single win on Saturday aboard My Halo in the Fonner Park Special Stakes, jockey R.D. Williams is just two victories away from the 4,000-win milestone for his career.

Williams leads the riders here with 33 wins on the season, as he goes after his 10th riding title here and first since his run of five straight ended in 1990. Williams returned to Fonner Park in 2004 on a regular basis.

Williams's numbers should also put him on the fast track to join his father, Dean, a Daily Racing Form trackman for 50 years, in the Nebraska Racing Hall of Fame.

The state's hall of fame was relocated to Fonner Park several years ago, but no one has been inducted since 1995. That will change April 20 when six new members will be inducted at a Nebraska HBPA-Fonner Park dinner and dance here at the track. The resurrection of the hall of fame inductions will be headlined by one of the sport's all-time leading trainers, Jack Van Berg.

The event is open to all members of the Nebraska Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association and anyone bearing a Nebraska State Racing Commission license. Reservations are due Monday and can be made at the HBPA office at the track in Grand Island or by contacting the Omaha office: 6406 S. 150th St., Omaha, NE 68137, or by calling (402) 731-5300. A cocktail hour will be 5 to 6 p.m. with dinner at 6 followed by the Hall of Fame ceremony at 6:45. A dance follows from 8 p.m. to midnight.

- Bill Hodtwalker


Mike McCarthy, the former dominant rider at Delaware Park, is quietly making an impact as a ship-in trainer at Laurel Park.

McCarthy, who began training in 2003, is 4 for 11 with an $8.58 return on investment on his Laurel runners after winning with Quick Book ($10.20) last Wednesday.

Quick Book, a 4-year-old colt, was making his first start for McCarthy after previously being trained by Steve Klesaris. The horse had been running above his eligibility conditions in nonwinners-of-three allowance company at Charles Town and took a substantial drop into the $25,000 nonwinners-of-two claiming ranks at Laurel.

* Fans of jockey Ryan Fogelsonger who had enough faith to use his horses in all three legs of the final pick three on last Thursday's card were rewarded with $376.80 for a $2 ticket. He brought home repeat winner Johnny Ola ($18.80), good-form allowance sprinter Gold Cluster ($10.20), and first-time turf runner Sir Classic Chris ($9.80) in races 6-8.

* Abel Castellano Jr. rode at Laurel for the last time on Sunday before relocating to Florida in preparation for the upcoming meet at Calder.

Castellano, 22, has been a regular in Maryland since the spring of 2003. He was the leading rider at Laurel that fall with 64 wins and led all Maryland jockeys with 11 stakes wins in 2004.

He missed more than two months last year after breaking three bones in his back in a spill at Laurel and is tied for 16th in the Laurel standings with 10 winners in 100 mounts.

- Joe DeVivo


Trainer Bob Baffert looked into the TV cameras after being asked the obvious question following Wanna Runner's dominant victory in Saturday's $600,000 WinStar Derby at Sunland.

"I don't know, I'm getting that temperature," Baffert said, laughing as he wiped his brow. "Derby fever. I feel pretty good."

Wanna Runner's Kentucky Derby prospects remain up in the air. He is short in terms of graded earnings and would likely need another start in a graded stakes. Last year Baffert saddled Sort It Out to a third in the WinStar Derby and wheeled him back in Keeneland's Lexington in late April. Sort It Out ran second to earn enough graded money to get into the Kentucky Derby. Things didn't go so well there, however, as Sort It Out ended up 17th behind Giacomo.

Owner Mike Pegram said that Wanna Runner, a Canadian-bred, would likely be pointed to the Queen's Plate for 3-year-olds at Woodbine, "unless that man over there says otherwise," he added, nodding toward Baffert.

Baffert credited a change in tactics - the show of more speed - for Wanna Runner's big win.

"On this track, you need speed," said Baffert, who trained Quarter Horses in New Mexico before launching his wildly successful Thoroughbred operation. "This place was huge for me. I'm glad for Mike [Pegram]. At least I can say I won a derby this year."

- Michael Hammersly

Turf Paradise

You can't keep an old man down. Our Best Man, at the ripe age of 9, showed no signs of losing his competitive nature as he won his 15th race in 95 career starts Sunday at Turf Paradise.

Ridden by Adolfo Morales, Our Best Man beat some relatively young whippersnappers in the day's fifth race, finishing three-quarters of a length ahead of 6-year-old Il Meglio, with 5-year-old Adobe Hills another length back in third. Our Best Man paid $7 to win, and covered the 7 1/2 furlongs on the turf in 1:30 for trainer David Van Winkle.

"He has a little age on him, but still has lots of heart," said Van Winkle. "He won a few stakes when he was younger. I was certainly proud of him."

Our Best Man's win put him over the $300,000 mark in career earnings.

* Trainer Nick Hines's stakes slump at Turf Paradise is over. The Southern California-based trainer sent out Horse B With You to easily win last Saturday's $40,000 Scottsdale Handicap at about a mile on the turf over six other 3-year-old fillies.

"It took me 12 years to break the Phoenix jinx and win a stakes," said Hines. "I'm coming back with this filly. I don't know for what stakes or when, but I'm on a roll and I'm coming back."

Claimed by Hines for $80,000 on Feb. 4 at Santa Anita, Horse B With You finished out of the money in her next start, the Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks, before winning the Scottsdale.

"She was so relaxed," said rider Tony Farina. "Very smooth trip. When I said go, she did. Mr. Hines had her in peak condition."

- Michael Hammersly