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Asmussen, Still Battling for 'Leading Trainer', Reflects On Successful Meet
Steve Asmussen has won the last five training titles at Churchill Downs and will wrap up another successful meet at the home of the Kentucky Derby when its fall racing session concludes on Sunday. Entering the final day of the 21-day Fall Meet, Asmussen had saddled 14 winners from 63 starters and trailed Mike Maker by a single victory in his bid to add another “leading trainer” title to his collection.
“We were very fortunate to get a couple of wins at the Breeders’ Cup and we’ve had some really nice 2-year-olds this meet,” Asmussen said via phone Sunday morning. “The meet was everything we could have hoped for.”
Asmussen, the fifth all-time leading trainer at Churchill Downs with 426 wins, saddled two winners at the 2011 Breeders’ Cup World Championships when the event was held beneath the Twin Spires for a record eighth time on Nov. 4-5. The first came on Breeders’ Cup Friday with Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s unbeaten My Miss Aurelia in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (Grade I). The following day, the Asmussen-trained Regally Ready took the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (GII) for Vinery Stables.
“The highlight of the meet was My Miss Aurelia,” Asmussen said. “She won so impressively and you couldn’t be higher on a horse than we are on her.”
Well-known for his success with young horses, Asmussen saddled six 2-year-old winners aside from My Miss Aurelia to lead all trainers with seven wins in so-called “baby races.” Eddie Kenneally has the second-highest 2-year-old victory total with four.
“We had success with 2-year-olds this meet, with Unbridled’s Note and Hierro looking like the standouts,” Asmussen said. “They physically look like the kind of horses that will appreciate more distance. The plan is to bring them to Santa Anita this winter and get them ready for next year.”
Mike McCarthy’s Unbridled’s Note was a debut winner on the undercard of the Stars of Tomorrow I program on opening day of the Fall Meet on Oct. 30. The 2-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song won by 4 ½ lengths under leading rider Julien Leparoux.
Stonestreet Stables LLC’s Hierro broke his maiden on Nov. 9 in his third career start with an eye-catching 5 ¼-length romp as am odds-on favorite. The chestnut son of Hard Spun was also ridden by Leparoux.
COURT BECOMES 17TH RIDER TO REACH 400-WIN MILESTONE AT CD – Jockey Jon Court became the latest rider to record a career milestone at Churchill Downs when a Saturday victory aboard Bluegrass Hall LLC’s Red Jack in the sixth race made him just the 17th rider to record 400 wins under the Louisville track’s venerable Twin Spires.
“It’s nice to get the 400th win at Churchill Downs,” Court said. “I’ve always loved riding here. It’s been a great meet and I hope I can keep it going. I knew Churchill had that (400-win) sign. I was just hoping they wouldn’t have to use it next spring. At 51-years-old I think I can still ride with the youngest and the best and I’m very thankful to be healthy and have the opportunity to do what I do.”
Court, who has over 3,600 wins in his riding career, has won 14 stakes beneath the Twin Spires, including the 2011 Firecracker Handicap (Grade II) aboard Wise Dan, who captured the 137th running of the Clark Handicap Presented by Norton Healthcare (GI) on Friday. Other notable winners at Churchill Downs include With Anticipation in the 2001 Louisville Handicap, Belterra in the 2001 Golden Rod (GII) and Softly in the 2002 Churchill Downs Distaff Handicap (GII).
His number of Churchill Downs victories would have certainly been higher had Court not left the Kentucky-circuit in 2004 to ride in Southern California for trainer Doug O’Neill. He returned to his Midwest-roots in 2009.
“A few of the trainers gave me a hard time, saying if I hadn’t gone to California to ride I could have doubled that and beyond, but that’s fine,” Court said. “It’s all in the name of racing and that’s good.”
Court began his riding career in 1980 and recorded his first victory aboard Nevada’s Hope at the now defunct Centennial Park in Colorado. He has won riding titles at Oaklawn, Ellis Park, Hoosier Park, Turfway and Birmingham and has recorded six top-five finishes at Churchill Downs, including a trio of thirds: 1999 Fall Meet, 2001 Fall Meet and 2002 Spring Meet.
The victory aboard Red Jack was Court’s second victory of the day and 13th of the Fall Meet. He is poised for another top-five finish in the jockey standings as he is currently in fourth behind Julien Leparoux, Corey Lanerie and Calvin Borel.
STARS OF TOMORROW II WINNERS EXIT RACES IN GOOD ORDER – WinStar Farm LLC’s Gemologist exited his 1 ¾-length victory in Saturday’s 85th running of the Kentucky Jockey Club (Grade II) in good order, according to Michael McCarthy, assistant trainer to Todd Pletcher.
“He came out of the race well,” McCarthy said. “He’ll go to WinStar Farm on Monday for a brief freshening and then make his way down to Palm Meadows.”
A 2-year-old son of Tiznow, Gemologist improved his record to a perfect 3-for-3 and increased his earnings to $145,855 in the Kentucky Jockey Club. There are currently no plans for his next start.
The Kentucky Jockey Club was the co-featured event on Saturday’s Stars of Tomorrow II program with the 68th running of the Golden Rod (GII), which was won by Anita Cauley’s homebred On Fire Baby. A 2-year-old gray/roan daughter of Smoke Glacken, On Fire Baby won the Golden Rod in gate-to-wire fashion by 6 ¼ lengths.
“It was an excellent performance and she’s doing well this morning,” trainer Gary Hartlage said. “She’ll head to Oaklawn Park on Thursday morning and the goal is to be back here (at Churchill Downs) in the spring (for either the Kentucky Derby or Kentucky Oaks).”
On Fire Baby became just the seventh 2-year-old filly to sweep the Pocahontas (GII) and Golden Rod and improved her record to 3-0-0 from four career starts with earnings of $227,329.
Another impressive winner on Saturday’s card was John Gunther and Eurowest Bloodstock’s Indian Ambush, who won the seventh race by two lengths at the 3-2 favorite for trainer Bill Mott. A 2-year-old son of Indian Charlie, Indian Ambush was doing well Sunday morning will be sent to Florida on Monday. He will be stabled at Mott’s barn at Gulfstream Park or Payson Park.
Other winners Saturday who will be shipped to Gulfstream Park this week include Elm Tree Farm’s Callmenancy, winner of the second race on the Matt Winn Turf Course for trainer Ken McPeek, and McKee Stables Inc.’s King Kid, who took the finale by two lengths for trainer Dale Romans. Both 2-year-olds exited their races in fine order.
BARN TALK – Entering the final day of the 21-day Fall Meet, the race for leading trainer is still wide open with Mike Maker holding a 15-14 lead over Steve Asmussen. Maker, who won only training title at the Louisville track in the 2008 Fall Meet, has two horses entered Sunday: Chyhyryn (Race 1, 3-1 on morning-line) and Twinspired (Race 10, 8-1). Asmussen will be seeking his 11th training title at Churchill Downs with his previous titles coming in 2001 Fall, 2004 Spring, 2004 Fall, 2007 Spring, 2007 Fall, 2009 Spring, 2009 Fall, 2010 Spring, 2010 Fall and 2011 Spring. He has four horses entered Sunday: Miss Chloe H. (Race 6, 9-2), Eyeseeyou (Race 8, 5-1), Hunterwood Point (Race 8, 6-1) and Joes Blazing Aaron (Race 10, 5-1). …
In the race for leading jockey, Julien Leparoux held a 32-27 advantage over Corey Lanerie heading into Sunday’s closing day program. Leparoux is seeking his ninth Churchill Downs riding title with his previous titles coming in 2006 Spring, 2007 Spring, 2007 Fall, 2008 Fall, 2009 Spring, 2010 Fall and 2011 Spring. Lanerie is seeking his first riding title at the Downs. …
Ken and Sarah Ramsey, the track’s all-time leading owners, wrapped up their record 18th Churchill Downs title as leading owner and 10th in the Fall, including five in a row. They enter closing day with a 12-5 lead over Billy, Donna and Justin Hays. The Ramseys’ local titles: 2000 Spring, 2000 Fall, 2001 Spring, 2001 Fall, 2002 Spring, 2002 Fall, 2003 Spring, 2003 Fall, 2004 Spring, 2005 Fall, 2006 Spring, 2007 Fall, 2008 Spring, 2008 Fall, 2009 Spring, 2009 Fall, 2010 Fall and 2011 Fall.
WORKTAB – Barry Butzow and Westrock Stables LLC’s Hamazing Destiny, second in the Sentient Jet Breeders Cup Sprint (GI) in 2010 and fifth in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, breezed four furlongs in :48.60 on a sloppy main track at Churchill Downs on Sunday morning for trainer D. Wayne Lukas.