07/25/2011 4:00PM

Saratoga: Astrology, Dominus tune up for weekend stakes

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Barbara D. Livingston
Astrology (left), with exercise rider Carlos Rosas up, joins assistant trainer Scott Blasi and his pony Pancho on Monday morning on the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – For the past few years, there has been a buzz on most Monday mornings during the Saratoga meet as trainer Steve Asmussen would work champions like Curlin or Rachel Alexandra just after sunrise.

Neither Astrology nor Dominus have reached star status yet, which explains why it was eerily quiet Monday morning when Asmussen brought out that pair of 3-year-olds for their final workouts before important stakes this weekend.

Astrology, the third-place finisher in the Preakness Stakes, hit the Oklahoma training track at 5:30 a.m. and worked a half-mile in 51.23 seconds, getting his final quarter in a respectable 24.50. About a half-hour later, across the street at the main track, Dominus, winner of the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont, went an even half-mile in 50.53, going his first quarter in 25.28 and his second quarter in 25.25.

As of Monday, Astrology was being pointed to Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, while Dominus was expected to start in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. A final, definitive decision will likely be made Wednesday morning, when entries are taken for the Jim Dandy. Entries for the Haskell will made Thursday. It is possible that both horses could be entered in both races, should owners Barbara Banke and George Bolton, who are owners in both horses, want more time to consider what to do. Spendthrift Farm owns part of Dominus.

Astrology, who won a tough maiden race here last year and the Grade 2 Iroquois at Churchill in the fall, is coming off a puzzling sixth-place finish in the Iowa Derby last month. Asmussen admits that he could not find a plausible excuse for the performance.

“Maybe it was as simple as he didn’t care for the going,” Asmussen said. “It wasn’t like he got to a spot and quit. The second and third jump weren’t what we were expecting from him.”

In the Haskell, Astrology would be facing Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. Others pointing to the 1 1/8-mile race are Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire, Affirmed Handicap winner Coil, Tesio winner Concealed Identity, and multiple sprint stakes winner J.J.’s Lucky Train.

Dominus finally put a stretch of injury issues behind him by winning the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 2. He missed a good part of the fall and early winter due to a leg injury suffered in his Churchill stall. He won a maiden race at Santa Anita in March and was beaten a head in the Derby Trial at Churchill in April before his Dwyer win. The Jim Dandy will be his first start around two turns.

“We had planned on running him two turns at Churchill in the Northern Dancer [June 18] and a foot bruise caused him to miss that and the Dwyer became the next alternative for him,” Asmussen said. “We were pleased with that race. I think it solidified our stance of who he is. It was a necessary step and one we obviously feel good about, but now we want to move up.”

The Jim Dandy is expected to draw Peter Pan winner Alternation, Belmont Stakes second- and-third-place finishers Stay Thirsty and Brilliant Speed, Northern Dancer winner Scotus, Tech Fall, and Moonshine Mullin.

Prime Cut tops Curlin Stakes field

A field of seven 3-year-olds was drawn Monday for Friday’s $75,000 Curlin Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile test that serves as a prep for the Grade 1 Travers on Aug. 27.

Prime Cut, who has not started since finishing 11th in the Belmont Stakes, drew post 2 and will be among the favorites in a wide-open lineup that includes, from the rail out, Bold Warrior (Jose Lezcano), Prime Cut (Edgar Prado), Raison d’Etat (Eddie Castro), Turbo Compressor (Javier Castellano), Point of Entry (John Velazquez), Will’s Wildcat (Cornelio Velasquez), and Golden Gulch (Julien Leparoux).

One trainer not smiling after the post-position draw was James Baker, who was looking for an inside starting spot for Will’s Wildcat, who worked a half-mile in 47.20 seconds and galloped out five-eighths in 1:01.40 with Velasquez aboard here Monday. Both of Will’s Wildcat’s previous wins have come on the lead. He also finished fourth behind Rattlesnake Bridge after contesting the pace making his stakes debut in Monmouth Park’s Long Branch on July 9.

“The track has been inside- and speed-favoring so far, and while he doesn’t need to be on the lead, he needs to be close,” Baker said. “He went a little faster than I wanted this morning, I was hoping he’d go in about 48, but he did it easy enough. This was the first time he’s worked here, and I hope it was an indication he likes this track.”

– additional reporting by Mike Welsch