12/31/2003 12:00AM

Sellers surfaces as Asmussen's main man

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NEW ORLEANS - When Steve Asmussen talked late last week about his split with Corey Lanerie, his stable's first-call rider, he was somewhat coy about his plans for replacing Lanerie. Give it a few days, Asmussen said, and things will become clearer.

They're fairly clear now. Shane Sellers will ride the bulk of Asmussen's powerful Fair Grounds stable. Last Sunday, Sellers won two races for Asmussen, and he has been named to ride Warleigh this Saturday in the Colonel E.R. Bradley Handicap.

But Sellers also had a scary moment Sunday. In the post parade for the 10th race, his mount, a 2-year-old named Hot Steel, reared and tossed Sellers, who got up walking gingerly. Two seasons ago, a first-time starter for trainer Frankie Brothers threw Sellers during pre-race warm-ups, injuring Sellers's knee so badly that it forced him into temporary retirement. Recently, Sellers has been battling a sore tailbone, and he aggravated the injury Sunday, but his agent, Fred Aime, said Sellers didn't expect to take off any mounts.

"He told me he was a little sore, but he had four days to mend, and it was nothing serious," Aime said Monday morning.

Asmussen and Sellers both are strong personalities, and Asmussen joked Monday about a clash of wills. But the pair should form a potent team.

"He's a proven commodity," Asmussen said. "He's won races that I haven't won. We're still in the incubation stage. Hopefully, it will be a very good match."

Sellers rides regularly for Dallas Stewart and David Carroll, but he does not have a client like Brothers, who regularly put Sellers on his best horses during the 1990's.

"Steve runs a lot of horses," Aime said. "I'd like to ride as many of them as we can."

Wildcat Shoes just lucky to be here

In the 53-year history of the Sugar Bowl Stakes, no horse has ever run as fast as Wildcat Shoes did Sunday. His time of 1:09.78 for six furlongs easily broke the stakes record, and Wildcat Shoes seemed hardly to break a sweat.

That was not the case in August, when Wildcat Shoes stopped badly in the stretch of an Arlington Park maiden race and suffered a critical case of heatstroke afterward. In fact, the colt's family is prone to life-threatening situations. Pink Shoes, Wildcat Shoes's dam, broke down badly in a workout, shattering her cannon bone and both sesamoids in a front leg.

"It's more like 100 percent of the time than 99 percent that a horse with those injuries would be put down," said Dr. Alex Harthill, who was there to help treat Pink Shoes.

Pink Shoes's owner, Patricia Blass, insisted on trying to save the filly, who was flown to a clinic in California, where a metal rod was inserted into her cannon bone down through her ankle. Saved to live as a broodmare, Pink Shoes has produced a brilliant racehorse in Wildcat Shoes, who now has won three straight after his ill-fated debut.

"He's the best one we've had in years," said Jinks Fires, who also trained Pink Shoes.

"People at the barn comment on how laid-back this horse is. He's always laying down and going to sleep."

By Forest Wildcat, Wildcat Shoes has neither the pedigree nor the body of a route horse, but his tremendous speed and his relaxed approach may eventually take Wildcat Shoes farther than six furlongs. For now, Fires will keep him in sprints, with Wildcat Shoes's next start scheduled for Jan. 24 in the Mountain Valley Stakes at Oaklawn.

Bedanken is Arkansas-bound

Also headed to Arkansas is Bedanken, who returned from a one-year layoff to set a stakes record Friday in the Furl Sail Handicap. Her trainer, Donnie Von Hemel, said Bedanken had come out of the race in good physical shape, but was tired from running hard after a long layoff.

"I think she got a little tired the last 50 yards," Von Hemel said on Saturday, shortly after he saddled Waupaca to a win in the Woodchopper Handicap. "She left a little in her feed tub last night."

Bedanken could return to Fair Grounds for another turf stakes, but Von Hemel will also consider dirt races at Oaklawn.

Stall's young ones impress

Four training races were run over a sloppy racetrack here Monday morning, and the trainer Al Stall had the two most impressive runners of the day. Especially worthy of note was Adobe Gold, who rated early and came home strongly to win the first race. Her time of 1:02 for five furlongs was fine, but particularly impressive was her six-furlong gallop out, which was timed in 1:15.

Crafty Cammack, Stall's horse in the second race, went straight to the front and cruised to an easy victory.

* Saturday's two stakes races, the Thelma for 2-year-old fillies and the Colonel E.R. Bradley for older horses running long on grass, were drawn last weekend. The Thelma has a short field of six headed by Sister Swank and Steady Course, while the Bradley drew 11 entries, with Freefourinternet and Warleigh the likely favorites.