04/05/2005 11:00PM

Sis City one Asmussen let get away

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Gary Rothstein/EquiPhotos
Sis City wins the Davona Dale at Gulfstream Park by 16 lengths.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - When your stable rings up 2,294 starts in a year, as Steve Asmussen's did last year, there is bound to be the good horse that occasionally gets away.

And so it is that Asmussen, who set a North American record for victories by a trainer in a season by winning 555 races in 2004, admits to having regrets about losing Sis City by way of the claim box.

"If you're dealing with horses, you're going to be wrong sometimes," he said flatly. "And I was simply wrong about her."

Since Asmussen lost Sis City to trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. last August, the filly has blossomed into one of the stars of the 3-year-old filly division. In her last start, the Feb. 5 Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park, Sis City won by an eye-popping 16 lengths in an effort likely to make her the favorite Saturday in the Grade 1 Ashland Stakes at Keeneland.

Asmussen twice ran Sis City for one of his primary clients, Bill Heiligbrodt, at the 2004 Churchill spring meet, where the filly ran third, then fifth. In her third career start, she won by a nose in a $50,000 maiden claiming race at Saratoga. She was claimed that afternoon by Dutrow for a partnership that included New York Yankees manager Joe Torre.

Since then, Sis City has won 3 of 5 starts and finished third in the Frizette and fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. And after the Davona Dale, a majority interest in the filly was sold to Stonerside Stable, with the deal reportedly setting her worth at about $2 million.

Asmussen has been in racing long enough, and has had enough great things happen to him in recent years, that he is able to shrug off the loss and move on.

"You'd think that if a horse wins by a nose for $50,000 that you'd had it perfectly spotted," he said. "Obviously, she was better than I thought she was. There have been times when I've gotten away with something like that, when a horse gets good and you keep them, and you think, 'Boy, I was lucky not to lose that horse when I ran him for a tag.' They come around, and you realize how dumb you would have felt to lose them.

"Some horses just get better. Some, you really count on them getting better, and they get slower. That's something I'm always working on, how to evaluate a horse so that you can foresee some of that happening."

Asmussen laughed and said that before Sis City sold for such a large amount, "I thought I was ahead of the game before that happened. But when she sold for all that money, I don't know. I might have used all the credit I'd built up."

For Asmussen, the presence of Sis City in the Ashland is a double-edged sword. That's because Asmussen also will be trying to win the 1 1/16-mile race with Summerly, a Winchell Thoroughbreds filly who became the queen of New Orleans this winter by winning all three of her starts at Fair Grounds, including two graded stakes.

Besides Sis City and Summerly, other projected starters for the $500,000 Ashland are Sharp Lisa, Runway Model, Letgomyecho, In the Gold, and Memorette. The Ashland is a crucial prep for the May 6 Kentucky Oaks.

Asmussen won his first Keeneland training title last spring with nine wins and then tied Nick Zito for top honors at the fall meet here with 11 wins each. This meet, his stable is particularly deep with race-ready 2-year-olds.

"There are 13 2-year-old races in the condition book," he said. "I'd like to be in 13 of them. I think we have some nice 2-year-olds ready to go."

Ghostzapper's head drilled

Ghostzapper, the 2004 Horse of the Year, still has not returned to training at Churchill Downs and will miss the Ben Ali Stakes later in the Keeneland meet.

Ghostzapper was stricken with a severe sinus infection late last month and was forced to miss his scheduled 2005 debut, the Oaklawn Handicap on Saturday. Trainer Bobby Frankel had hoped to use the April 28 Ben Ali as a substitute launching point, but that no longer is feasible.

"They had to drill a little hole in his head to drain his sinuses," Frankel said Wednesday. "He's fine now. I'm looking to get him back on the track by Monday."

Frankel said he intends to point Ghostzapper to the May 30 Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park, then possibly the June 18 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill.

Frankel has about 15 horses at Churchill, with more to come, and hopes to have a major presence during the Keeneland meet and through Kentucky Derby week at Churchill. For starters, he has Chattahoochee War in the Transylvania Stakes on Friday and Master David, who ran in the Derby last year, penciled in for a second-level turf allowance on Saturday.

High Limit, Frankel's hope for the Kentucky Derby, had a strong six-furlong breeze Tuesday at Churchill when going in 1:12.60 under Joe Deegan.

'Live From the Backstretch' airs daily

"Live From the Backstretch," entering its 17th consecutive year, will be broadcast daily throughout the spring meet on WLXG radio (1300 AM). The broadcasts run for 15 minutes, starting at 9:50 a.m. Eastern, except Saturdays, when the program runs two hours, starting at 8. Pete Kules and Mike Penna are the hosts.

WLXG also has added a live daily broadcast of the last race each day.

* The opening-day card at Keeneland is the first of four Fridays at the meet, but the only one with just nine races. Each remaining Friday will offer 10 races. All three Saturdays also offer 10 races. Nine races is standard on all other days.

* Nominations to all supporting stakes of Derby week at Churchill close Saturday. Nominations have already closed for the three biggest races: the Derby, Oaks, and Woodford Reserve.

At a glance: Keeneland

RACING SCHEDULE: 16 days; Friday through April 29; dark Mondays and Tuesdays
POST TIME: 1:15 p.m. Eastern
ADMISSIONS: General, $3; reserved seats additional. Clubhouse, private
PARKING: General, free; valet, additional
LOCATION: Six miles west of downtown Lexington on U.S. 60
AVERAGE PURSES: About $650,000 per day
PHONE: (859) 254-3412 or (800) 456-3412
INTERNET: www.keeneland.com

2005 spring stakes schedule

DATEEVENTCONDITIONSDISTANCEPURSE
Fri.,April 8TRANSYLVANIA (G3)3YO1 Mile (T)$100,000
Sat.,April 9ASHLAND (G1)3YO F1 1/16 Miles500,000
Sun.,April 10LAFAYETTE (G3)3YO6 Furlongs100,000
Wed.,April 13VINERY MADISON (G3)4YO & Up, F&M7 Furlongs200,000
Thur.,April 14STONERSIDE BEAUMONT (G2)3YO F7 Furlongs, 184 ft250,000
Fri.,April 15MAKER'S MARK MILE (G2)4YO & Up1 Mile (T)250,000
Sat.,April 16TOYOTA BLUE GRASS (G1)3YO1 1/8 Miles750,000
Sat.,April 16SHAKERTOWN (G3)4YO & Up5 1/2 Furlongs (T)100,000
Sat.,April 16COMMONWEALTH BC (G2)3YO & Up7 Furlongs400,000
Sun.,April 17JENNY WILEY (G3)4YO & Up, F&M1 1/16 Miles (T)200,000
Wed.,April 20DOUBLEDOGDARE4YO & Up, F&M1 1/16 Miles100,000
Thur.,April 21FORERUNNER3YO1 1/8 Miles (T)100,000
Fri.,April 22ROYAL CHASE (G1)4YO & Up2 1/2 Miles ( hdls)150,000
Sat.,April 23COOLMORE LEXINGTON (G2)3YO1 1/16 Miles325,000
Sat.,April 23STRAVINSKY3YO & Up, F&M5 1/2 Furlongs (T) 100,000
Sun.,April 24APPALACHIAN3YO F1 Mile (T)100,000
Wed.,April 27BEWITCH (G3)4YO & Up, F&M1 1/2 Miles (T)100,000
Thur.,April 28BEN ALI (G3)4YO & Up1 1/8 Miles150,000
Fri.,April 29ELKHORN (G3)4YO & Up1 1/2 Miles (T)150,000