05/08/2003 12:00AM

Posse nicely spotted in Winn


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - While the future stars of his class were still bucking shins and growing into their skins, Posse already was tearing up the racetrack. An eye-popping maiden victory in April of his 2-year-old season made him an instant sensation, but that was before the rest of the division began catching up to him.

Today, more than a year into his racing career, Posse has settled into the niche of stakes-quality sprinter, one whose ambitions are limited primarily by distance. On Saturday, Posse will run six furlongs in the $100,000 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs.

Trainer Steve Asmussen recently conceded that he might have asked Posse for a bit too much last year, but now that he and the 3-year-old colt are on the proverbial same page, there could be plenty of fun in store.

"I'm only going to ask him to do what I'm sure he can do," said Asmussen. "He's been good to us. We're going to be good to him."

Typical of that philosophy is how Asmussen resisted running Posse against Midas Eyes in the Derby Trial, a one-mile race that came nearly three weeks after Posse's most recent start, a victory in the seven-furlong Lafayette Stakes at Keeneland. After the Lafayette, Asmussen focused on the Matt Winn Stakes for Posse, and here they are, ready to capitalize on such prudent planning.

Posse, a Silver Deputy colt owned by Bill Heiligbrodt, figures as a solid favorite in a field of nine in the Winn Stakes.

Two other recent stakes winners rank among the top challengers to Posse: Coach Jimi Lee, a romping winner of the Lost Code at Hawthorne, and Cajun Beat, an off-the-pace victor of the Hallandale Beach at Gulfstream.

The early fractions in the Matt Winn figure to be sizzling if only because of the presence of Cat Genius, a colt who has led at the first call in all six of his starts, four of which resulted in wins.

The others entered are Captain Amour, Risky Cat, Elusive Hour, and Unbridled America.

The Matt Winn is named for the late Churchill president who is widely credited for building the Kentucky Derby into "the greatest two minutes in sports." The race in his honor was inaugurated last year, when Day Trader won for D. Wayne Lukas.

The Winn is the ninth of 10 races on a Saturday program that also includes two allowances (races 7 and 8). First post is 1:15 p.m. Eastern. A T-shirt giveaway is scheduled.