03/12/2014 1:19PM

Tapiture could key Asmussen's Kentucky Derby-Hall of Fame double

Coady Photography
Tapiture won the Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn last month and will try to land the Rebel Stakes there Saturday.

You never know where trainer Steve Asmussen will be from one day to the next, be it a horse sale in Florida or overseeing his string of runners at Fair Grounds or Oaklawn Park, but there is one place he’s usually certain to be found – atop the standings at the tracks where he’s got full strings.

Asmussen wins races by the bushel. Going into Wednesday’s races, he had won 6,715 of them in North America, placing him second on the all-time list while still, at age 48, in the prime of his career. All his success – including two Eclipse Awards as champion trainer, a single-season wins record of 650 in 2009, a pair of Preakness wins, and three straight Horse of the Year titles with Curlin and Rachel Alexandra – earned him a spot last week as a finalist for induction into the sport’s Hall of Fame this year.

If Asmussen finishes in the top four in voting among the 10 finalists, he’s in.

Asmussen, whose parents – Keith and Marilyn – have a training center in Texas, and whose brother, Cash, was a champion jockey both here and in France, said getting on the ballot for the first time was overwhelming.

“It was very special to be able to call my mom and dad and tell them,” he said Wednesday from New Orleans. “It means a great deal to them. They’re very proud of their son.”

But what did it mean to him?

“There’s so many people who are a part of it, so I get to share it with them,” Asmussen said. “It means a tremendous amount of work on their part to put me in this position. I’m very grateful.”

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Over the next few days, Asmussen will have plenty of chances to add to his win total. His barn will be represented by runners at Aqueduct, Fair Grounds, Oaklawn Park, and Santa Anita. He is leading the standings at Fair Grounds, is tied for first at Oaklawn, and just won the training title at Sam Houston, which closed Tuesday.

No race this week, though, will be as important as the Grade 2, $600,000 Rebel Stakes on Saturday at Oaklawn, where Asmussen will send out Tapiture, the winner of the Southwest Stakes in his last start Feb. 17. Tapiture is regarded as one of the leading contenders for the May 3 Kentucky Derby, and he’s already proven at Churchill Downs, having won the Kentucky Jockey Club last fall in his final start at age 2.

Tapiture got a career-high Beyer Speed Figure of 98 in the Southwest, which was his first start in 2 1/2 months. The Rebel is 26 days after the Southwest and comes four weeks before Oaklawn’s premier race for 3-year-olds, the Arkansas Derby, on April 12.

Tapiture had trained most of the winter at Fair Grounds, shipped to Oaklawn a week prior to the Southwest, and has remained at Oaklawn since.

“We didn’t want to put any more miles on him than necessary,” Asmussen said. “The 26 days between his last race is a bit of a concern, so we’ve trained him accordingly. We wanted to give the Southwest the respect the race deserved.”

Asmussen said he was able to work around the recent cold weather in Arkansas. Tapiture has had two drills since the Southwest. The first was scheduled for March 3, but Asmussen moved it up to March 2 due to the weather forecast. He was glad he did.

“I got to work on Sunday morning, and it was 64 degrees when I drove in, and by the time I drove out, it was 34,” he said. “They ended up canceling after the fourth race that day, and on Monday, the racetrack was closed. It was 18 that morning.”

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Tapiture worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 on March 2, then came back with an easy half-mile in 50.20 seconds Monday.

In addition to Tapiture, Asmussen trains the regally bred Gold Hawk, who is scheduled to make his next start in the Louisiana Derby on March 29 at Fair Grounds. Gold Hawk – who is by Empire Maker and out of the champion filly Caressing – won his first two starts, then was third in the Lecomte and fifth in the Risen Star in his two stakes appearances.

“I think he’s a typical Empire Maker in that he’s going to be better as he gets older,” Asmussen said. “He’s got a lot of talent, but he’s not quite there yet, mentally and physically. But you can see him getting better every day. We’ve stepped his training up a bit. We feel he’s headed in the right direction.”