03/18/2008 11:00PM

Pyro has easy work before shipping


It was a pretty big deal back on Jan. 12 at Fair Grounds when Pyro posted his first official workout since returning to training following his second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. A week before that 51.80-second tune-up, Pyro had gone a half-mile in a time too slow to make the work tab, and his final work this year at Fair Grounds, done on Monday, was scarcely any faster. Pyro was timed in a pedestrian 53.20 seconds in his first breeze since winning the Louisiana Derby. Suffice it to say, the pro-tem leader of the 3-year-old division was not asked for his best.

"We let him lope around there," trainer Steve Asmussen said. "We're very happy with where we're at with him."

Where Pyro is at - physically, not developmentally, in the way Asmussen meant - was set to change Tuesday night, with Pyro boarding a horse trailer bound for Keeneland. There, he will have three works - the first of them Monday - before starting in the April 12 Blue Grass Stakes, the same race that 2007 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense used as his final Derby prep.

Asmussen surely has considered the import of Pyro's races yet to be run, and on March 29, Asmussen will be in Dubai to watch Curlin start as the hot favorite in the $6 million Dubai World Cup. But looking back at the Fair Grounds meet that ends Sunday should also give Asmussen satisfaction.

Asmussen dominated the New Orleans racing season like no trainer in recent history. With four horses entered Thursday, two on Friday, three on Saturday, and whatever he can find for Sunday's card, Asmussen has only the slimmest chance at equaling Jack Van Berg's record 91 wins during a Fair Grounds season. But Van Berg's mark came during a longer meet, and Asmussen entered Thursday's program with 82 wins, and will be the first trainer ever to average more than one victory per racing day at Fair Grounds.

Asmussen has won a meet-record 16 stakes this winter, and those stakes victories alone would place him seventh in the overall trainer standings.

Cody Autrey was sitting on 48 wins through last week, a total that historically would put him in the hunt for leading trainer. This year? Autrey is down by 34 with four days to go.

Denis of Cork drills six furlongs

The morning before Pyro methodically went through his paces, the Fair Grounds-based Triple Crown hopeful Denis of Cork had a major drill, going six furlongs in company. His work was timed in 1:13.80, with Denis of Cork running his final three furlongs in just over 35 seconds, according to trainer David Carroll.

"It was a very good work," Carroll said. "He finished up nicely, galloped out strong."

Carroll said he wanted Denis of Cork, winner of the Southwest Stakes in his most recent start, to have a strong drill this week because the colt is to ship from Fair Grounds to Churchill Downs on Monday. The day before he leaves, Denis of Cork will have an easier half-mile maintenance work.

Carroll said both the Wood Memorial and the Illinois Derby on April 5 remain as options for Denis of Cork's next start. Denis of Cork seems more likely to go to the Wood, but Carroll wants a backup plan since Denis of Cork does not care for a wet racing surface.

"Weather is going to play a major factor," Carroll said of Denis of Cork's upcoming race.

Denis of Cork won his first start at 3 in the Fair Grounds mud, but spun his wheels and struggled to beat inferior competition.

The Wood seems like a less imposing spot this week than it did before War Pass's last-place finish Saturday in the Tampa Bay Derby. Had War Pass won that race, he would have gone to the Wood unbeaten and still retaining an air of invincibility.

"I'm not sure what's going on with War Pass, but you feel better going up there when you think you have a chance of winning," Carroll said. "The next start, whether he wins or not, I just need to get a good race with him."

Barnett barn turns it on late

The trainer Bobby Barnett started the Fair Grounds meet with a whisper, but finished with a bang. The improving Firerock Base earned a stakes start with a sharp turf-allowance win on March 9, and five days later Jazz in the Park hit the 3-year-old stakes radar with an entry-level allowance victory.

Jazz in the Park, who beat the talented 3-year-old Riley Tucker by one length going a mile last week, is 2 for 2 since Barnett stretched him out to two turns. Jazz in the Park is a half-brother to the graded-stakes-winning sprinter Elusive Jazz, but is by Ecton Park, who apparently has passed on stamina.

"This colt always showed that he wanted to go long," Barnett said.

Jazz in the Park came out of his allowance victory in good condition, Barnett said, and is tentatively being pointed to the Illinois Derby.

Grasshopper, Highest Class work

Trainer Neil Howard worked several stakes horses early this week at Fair Grounds. Grasshopper went an easy half-mile on Tuesday, his first breeze since finishing second in the March 8 New Orleans Handicap.

On Monday, Highest Class, who is bound for the Bonnie Miss on March 29 at Gulfstream, went five furlongs in a bullet 1:00.80.

* Closing weekend here abounds with stakes races, with three on Friday's card, five on Saturday, and one more Sunday. A pair of entry-level allowance races, one at six furlongs on dirt (race 8), another at 1 1/16 miles on turf (race 9), highlight the Thursday program.