08/27/2005 12:00AM

Pletcher unsure why Ashado ran poorly


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Trainer Todd Pletcher said he could not find an excuse for why Ashado ran so poorly in Friday's Grade 1 Personal Ensign Handicap, and intends to press on with last year's champion 3-year-old filly for a fall campaign.

Ashado finished in a dead heat for fourth with Island Sand in the Personal Ensign, 14 lengths behind upset winner Shadow Cast. It was only the second time in 19 career starts that Ashado finished worse than third. Her previous largest margin of defeat was four lengths in the Grade 1 Frizette in 2003.

"At this point she seems okay," Pletcher said Saturday morning. "We would like to find a reason why she didn't run her normal race. At this point we haven't been able to put a finger on it."

Pletcher usually works Ashado five or six days out from her races. Due to concerns over wet tracks, Pletcher worked Ashado four days out from the Personal Ensign. Pletcher said he doesn't believe that was a factor.

Pletcher said he would have Ashado undergo some blood tests, but barring any major problems, Ashado would be pointed to the $750,000 Beldame at Belmont on Oct. 1.

"Right now, I would say we will regroup and point for the Beldame, see how she trains and go from there," Pletcher said.

Neil Howard, the trainer of Shadow Cast, said that his filly came out of the race in good order. He has not picked out a next race for Shadow Cast, but indicated that the Breeders' Cup Distaff was the goal.

Adieu points to Frizette

Friday wasn't all bad for Pletcher. He won the Grade 2 Spinaway with Adieu, who bounced back from a disappointing effort in the Adirondack with a solid one-length victory over Folklore.

Pletcher said he looks forward to stretching Adieu out in distance, something he will do in the Grade 1, $500,000 Frizette at Belmont on Oct. 8. The Frizette is run at one mile.

"She acts like she will run further," Pletcher said.

Trainer Steve Asmussen, meanwhile, had little excuse for Effectual, the Spinaway favorite who showed speed and faded to fifth as the 7-5 favorite.

Asmussen 2-year-olds take next step

Asmussen is extremely deep in the 2-year-old division, and on Monday he will send out a colt and a filly in entry-level allowance races with the goal of getting them to graded stakes at Belmont next month. Both allowance races are at 6 1/2 furlongs.

In Monday's third, Asmussen sends out the filly Halo Humor, a solid debut winner here on July 31. Halo Humor withstood two separate challenges en route to winning by 7 1/4 lengths. She ran six furlongs in 1:12.35 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 73.

"She ran extremely well," Asmussen said. "Hopefully it's a little insight into things to come."

In the seventh, Asmussen sends out Private Vow, who won his maiden here at second asking, setting the pace and drawing off to win by 2 1/4 lengths. He will face a stern test from Trippi Appeal and Grand Survival.

"He has been our most impressive 2-year-old winner here," said Asmussen, who has won six 2-year-old races at this meet. "He's definitely in the developmental stage. He's not up to the speed of First Samurai and Henny Hughes. I hope the 'a-other-than' puts him in consideration to run against them."

The filly allowance race is designed to be a prep for the Matron, while the colt race is a stepping-stone to the Futurity. Both seven-furlong stakes will be run on Sept. 17.

Riskaverse not 100 percent for Ballston Spa

Riskaverse is the only Grade 1 winner in the field for the $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap, but even trainer Patrick Kelly is not expecting a Grade 1 effort out of his mare on Monday.

The Ballston Spa will mark the first start for Riskaverse since her fourth-place finish in the Grade 2 New York Handicap on July 2. She missed some training time after coming out of the race "a little under the weather," according to Kelly.

"I had to back off her training a little after her last start, and she's not really 100 percent coming into this one," Kelly said Saturday. "I'm just trying to get her back in action, and she's definitely behind the others in here who have been running."

Riskaverse will be seeking her first win since she upset the Grade 1 Flower Bowl Handicap at Belmont last October. Despite having made only two starts since her eighth-place finish in the 2004 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf, Riskaverse carries 118 pounds in the Ballston Spa, just one less than highweight Alinghi.

"To be honest, the only reason we didn't retire her after last year was because the Breeders' Cup is at home and carded at a mile and one-quarter this season," Kelly explained. "How we're going to get there, and whether she belongs, remains the question at the moment. We will try to figure that out as we go forward, starting with the race on Monday."

Bigger plans in works for Alumni Hall

Trainer Neil Howard and principal owner William Farish said they were rethinking future plans for Alumni Hall following his easy optional claiming win here Friday. The victory came in the 6-year-old's first start since May 31.

"He took a big step forward with this win," Farish said. "We've got a little more confidence in him now, so we're readjusting our sights a bit and will start looking to get him back in graded races again, with the Breeders' Cup still a possibility."

Alumni Hall won the Grade 3 Ben Ali Handicap at Keeneland on April 28.

"The little vacation hit him just right," said Farish. "He had been running steadily for eight months. It might sound funny, but even though he's a 6-year-old he has really only had two years of racing and he's still maturing. Hopefully the race yesterday will set the tone for a big fall campaign."

Howard also reported that Reunited, who finished a disappointing third as the 4-5 favorite in Thursday's Victory Ride Stakes, appears to have come out of the race in good order.

"I thought she ran well against those kind of fillies for her first stakes race," said Howard. "We will just point her for something at Keeneland now."

- additional reporting by Mike Welsch