05/01/2006 11:00PM

Tough to separate four Asmussen stablemates


LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Horseplayers looking for a little help in their wagering endeavors when the $150,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes rolls around Thursday at Churchill Downs will get no help from trainer Steve Asmussen, who will send out four of the 12 starters.

"It's pretty hard to separate the four of them, it really is," said Asmussen.

The past month has been an incredible one for Asmussen. Asmussen, 40, who in 2004 set a North American record for most winners in a year with 555, won 7 of the 12 races for 2-year-olds at the recently ended Keeneland meet, an astounding feat by any standard.

Three of those Keeneland winners - Sequoia King, Sentry, and Datrick - have wheeled back in the five-furlong Kentucky BC, while the fourth Asmussen starter, Fortunate Envoy, "figures to like Churchill a lot more than he did Keeneland," where he ran fifth in an April 23 maiden race, said Asmussen. "I'm sure he'll be closing well over this track."

As for his Keeneland winners, "They all ran very impressively there and won real big," said Asmussen. "It'll be interesting to see how they do in their second starts."

Sequoia King won by 4 1/2 lengths, Sentry won by 6 1/2 lengths, and Datrick won by 7 1/2 lengths. All three flashed big early speed before drawing off.

Although the winner seems most likely to come from the Asmussen quartet, the Kentucky BC field also includes a pair of California shippers who won two-furlong races at Santa Anita at the end of March: Hot Flame, trained by Bob Baffert, and Erin's Kristina, trained by Wesley Ward.

Erin's Kristina is one of four fillies in the field. The others are Beautiful Venue, Pro Pink, and Ringside Partner. The rest of the field consists of three maidens: Mystical Light, Teuflesburg, and Nereus.

The Grade 3 Kentucky BC effectively replaces the Three Chimneys Juvenile (formerly the WHAS-TV Stakes), an ungraded race that had been a staple of the Kentucky Derby undercard for many years. In its previous existence, the Kentucky BC was a Memorial Day weekend feature that was not run last year. Asmussen won the last three runnings of the Kentucky BC with Posse (2002), Cuvee (2003), and Lunarpal (2004).

An ontrack crowd of some 20,000 is expected for Thursday's card. Live entertainment will be provided in the Churchill infield.