11/23/2010 4:20PM

Stall's cupboard hardly bare since Blame has gone

Coady Photography
Breeders' Futurity winner J.B.'s Thunder is among the prospects Al Stall hopes can fill the void of the recently retired Blame.

NEW ORLEANS -- Looking out over the Fair Grounds main track at the end of training hours Monday, Al Stall pointed to one of the horses he trains breaking off into an easy jog.

“That’s Blame’s full sister,” Stall said. “Look at her. She’s just like him. She’s relaxed like him, her hind end looks just like him.”

Three more horses still stood along the outside fence, awaiting their morning exercise. One was J. B.’s Thunder, winner of the Grade 1 Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland in October, and back out on the track for the first time since the Breeders’ Cup. In his barn office a few minutes later, Stall suggested a visitor walk a few steps down the shed row. “Go look in stall 2.” Inside stood a mighty steed with a glowing dark bay coat. The unraced son of Pulpit out of the Unbridled mare Check is named Bind, a 2-year-old in the body of a older horse.

The best horse Al Stall ever has trained, Blame, just went off to stud three weeks ago. Blame had just won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, meaning Stall had scaled one of racing’s highest peaks. But Al Stall, obviously, still has reasons to get up and go to the racetrack every morning.

“Not yet, I don’t have a hangover from all that,” Stall said. “I remember Jack Van Berg after Alysheba won the Breeders’ Cup (and was retired) saying he had trouble just going to his barn. I’m still excited to race my Louisiana-bred horses here on opening day.”

Blame might have been the biggest part of the best year of Stall’s training career, but he was only a part of it. Strangely, 2010 started out poorly for Stall. From Jan. 1 through April 7, he won with a paltry 7 of 88 starters, leaving the Fair Grounds with an 8-percent win rate. A horse named Rose Medallion turned everything around when she won an April 8 race at Keeneland by a head, Stall said. Indeed, since that day, his barn has won at a 31-percent clip while capturing a remarkable 13 stakes in 23 tries.

Blame’s full sister is named Might. Stall said she should be ready sometime in 2011, and wonders if her future might be on turf. Bind, the gorgeous colt in the stall, isn’t as far along in his preparation, but Stall clearly has hopes. J B’s Thunder will try to rebound from his ninth-place BC Juvenile finish, his dirt debut, in the Lecomte Stakes here Jan. 22. And Stall will be in plenty of action this weekend at Churchill. Apart will be among the favorites in the Clark Handicap, and is scheduled to ship to Fair Grounds early next week, as will the 2-year-old filly Aide, the likely chalk in the Golden Rod Stakes. Trubs, who was entered in but excluded from the Delta Jackpot last weekend, has been shipped back to Kentucky to start in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes.

Still, even in the unlikely event that all these prospects pan out, Stall might not ever find himself in a moment quite like the one earlier this month as night fell over Churchill Downs.

“After the Breeders’ Cup Turf stuff was all through, all of a sudden it felt like the whole place just swelled up,” Stall said. “Zenyatta took everything up a notch, I guess.”

And then Stall’s horse went out and beat her.

Asmussen sends best horses west

Steve Asmussen has nine horses entered for the first three days of racing here at Fair Grounds. With 50 horses stabled in New Orleans and another string across the state at Delta Downs, Asmussen will be in plenty of action over the winter in New Orleans, but the composition of his stable will be different than in recent years, Asmussen said Monday. The trainer’s new satellite operation in Southern California opens in early December, and it’s there Asmussen will send his best horses for the winter.

Asmussen said he has wearied in recent seasons of trying to find races for open maiden and allowance horses at Fair Grounds. He said there have been many times he entered and entered a particular horse, only to have the intended race fail to attract sufficient entries to be used on a racing program.

“The Majestic Perfections, the Hot Dixie Chicks,” he said, referring to two stakes horses who spent last winter here, “I had them there, and they couldn’t run. If a turf race hadn’t rained off, Majestic Perfection would’ve have had to break his maiden at Oaklawn.”

Asmussen said he believes Fair Grounds has not tried hard enough to hustle horses into open races that don’t easily attract sufficient entries, instead preferring to fall back on lower-level races more easily filled.

“I think that Fair Grounds has shown the great desire to have quantity over quality,” he said. “I think there’s more that they could have done. I thought they had a tremendous window of opportunity to be a serious meet, but I’m not sure they want that.”

Fair Grounds general manger Eric Halstrom, to whom Asmussen has expressed his frustration, said the track does want to have a strong program for promising open horses.

“We want this to be national open-horse, good-quality racing,” Halstrom said.

And Jason Boulet, Fair Grounds’ racing secretary, said his office planned to work harder to find horses to fill the types of races that haven’t been used in recent seasons.

“Yesterday I had two Louisiana-bred races sitting out there with 10 or more entries, but we waited and hustled two open races to go,” Boulet said Monday.

If Fair Grounds continues with this approach, perhaps the Asmussen A Team will be lured back next year, but for now those horses are far away.

“With California back to dirt, increasing purses, it just seemed like an opportunity.” Asmussen said. “There was no point in them being in New Orleans.”