01/12/2008 1:00AM

Z Fortune caps Asmussen's day


Steve Asmussen did it again. Three weeks after sweeping four stakes races on one Fair Grounds card, Asmussen won half of the six stakes on Saturday in New Orleans, including a sweep of the 3-year-old races, and a definitive victory in the Grade 3, $100,000 Lecomte with Z Fortune.

Z Fortune stamped himself as an apparently serious contender for the Louisiana Derby, if not points beyond, scoring a sharp 2 3/4-length victory over stretch-running Blackberry Road.

"It was everything we could hope for," Asmussen said of Z Fortune's win. "He's a good horse. We're trying to figure out how to win the [Kentucky] Derby with him."

Racing fans will be forgiven if the name Z Fortune hasn't been flitting about their minds. The colt, by Siphon, had won his first two starts, but both races came against New York-breds, the most recent on the decidedly un-glamorous inner-dirt track at Aqueduct. But Z Fortune beat his statebred-restricted rivals with ease, and he looked like a horse with a bright future on Saturday.

Racing from mid-pack while under stout restraint from jockey Shaun Bridgmohan, Z Fortune had little pace at which to run, as the Lecomte unfolded at a surprisingly relaxed tempo. The Darp wound up on the lead, setting slow fractions of 24.39 seconds for his first quarter-mile, and 48.36 for the half. Florida invader He's Eze pressed the pace and made an early move at the start of the clubhouse turn, taking a brief lead. But The Darp countered turning into the short stretch run, as several horses stacked up across the track.

But Z Fortune was going best. Bridgmohan swung him out for racing room turning for home, and with one big move, Z Fortune took over, pulling away in the final half-furlong. Z Fortune was timed in a good 1:37.79 for one mile and paid $12 to win.

The only other horse running at the finish was Blackberry Road, who rallied wide from far back to be a clear second. Mad Flatter finished third in his stakes debut.

Z Fortune is one of several strong 3-year-old prospects owned by Ahmed Zayat. Asmussen also has good 3-year-olds himself, including Eclipse Award finalist Pyro, who is gearing up for his 3-year-old debut.

Tiffany Lass: Jolie the Cat takes it

A half-hour before the Lecomte, Asmussen scored a mild upset in the Tiffany Lass with Jolie the Cat, who slowed the pace to a crawl under James Graham, and beat favored Tizaqueena by 2 1/2 lengths.

Jolie the Cat ($10.40) set a slow pace under Graham, especially considering how quickly the Fair Grounds main track played on Saturday. Her opening quarter-mile, raced in the clear, went in 24.61 seconds, the half-mile in a tepid 48.89, and that might have made all the difference.

Tizaqueena, the 6-5 favorite, stumbled leaving the gate, but gathered herself and gained a good position just outside the early leader. Jockey Jamie Theriot ranged up to challenge coming into the stretch, but Jolie the Cat had too much left, and pulled away late, with Highest Class rallying for third. Jolie the Cat, making her two-turn and stakes debut, was timed in 1:38.56 for one mile.

"I'm very proud of her," Asmussen said. "She's a quality filly. For her to come home the last quarter in 24 and change, she's liable to be heard from."