03/15/2007 12:00AM

Three chances for Asmussen


NEW ORLEANS - Trainer Steve Asmussen has a strong hand in Saturday's feature race at Fair Grounds, the $75,000 Fortin Handicap for older fillies and mares at a mile on the main track. Asmussen should add to his lead in purse money won at the current meet with three horses running as separate betting interests in the six-horse field.

Rolling Sea is the most accomplished of the Asmussen trio. A 4-year-old Illinois-bred, Rolling Sea beat statebreds in the Purple Violet at Arlington Park last June, then finished second in the Sweet Chant and third in the Gradeo3 Arlington Park Breeders' Cup Oaks against open company. She continued to settle for minor awards, including third-place finishes in the Pago Hop and Furl Sail at the Fair Grounds meet, until Asmussen found a first-level allowance spot in which her statebred victories didn't count against her. She rolled by seven lengths that day, then clobbered an optional claiming field by more than 10 lengths. Now she will try open stakes company again.

"Rolling Sea is doing really well," said Asmussen. "I hope she can keep it up."

Asmussen admitted that it's not the ideal circumstance to run horses he trains against each other, but it's better than the alternative. If the race didn't fill, he couldn't run any of them. Earlier in the meet, he has scratched a horse or two once the race was set, but this time he is going for the triple.

"I do plan on running all three of them," he said.

Asmussen's other entrants are Wild as Elle, who contested the pace in the Pan Zareta BC Handicap before tiring to fifth, and Modana, who finished second to Rolling Sea in her last start.

Asmussen's team will have to combat the 5-year-old mare Space Cruise, trained by Patrick Mouton. The multiple stakes-placed Space Cruise is a dangerous contender from the rail, an advantage at this distance with its short run to the first turn. A repeat of her second-place finish, beaten by a neck at this distance last September in the Matron at Evangeline Downs, might well be good enough to win this. She was turf-to-dirt that day, an angle Mouton is repeating in this spot.

The wild card in the race is Stormy Destin, recently acquired by trainer Cody Autrey after an impressive score in a second-level sprint allowance at Oaklawn Park. If Stormy Destin runs to her form there should be quite a lively pace.