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Sizzling Asmussen Looks for 2009 Sweep, Heads Fall Meet Roster of Trainers
Steve Asmussen, this year’s runaway leader in victories and earnings by Thoroughbred trainers in North America, heads the roster of trainers whose horses will compete during the 21-day Fall Meet at Churchill Downs that opens on Sunday, Nov. 1.
Asmussen earned the 2009 Spring Meet title beneath the historic Twin Spires by saddling 29 winners and will be looking to sweep the two Churchill Downs meets for a third time. He collected Spring and Fall titles at the home of the Kentucky Derby in 2004 and ’07. The North American divisions of Asmussen’s sprawling stable had earned a spectacular 539 victories through Monday, according to figures compiled by Equibase. Asmussen set the record for wins by a trainer in a calendar year when he campaigned 622 victories in 2008. His horses have earned more than $18.7 million, which comfortably leads the more than $12.8 million earned by horses trained by current runner-up Todd Pletcher.
Asmussen’s Spring ’09 training crown was his sixth title at Churchill Downs and he now ranks fifth in career victories at the track. His Spring Meet wins pushed Asmussen’s career win total at the track to 337 – two more than Hall of Famer and 1987 Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Jack Van Berg. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott leads the career victory roster with 622 wins and a solid Spring Meet allowed Louisville native Dale Romans (472 wins) to slip past Hall of Famer and four-time Kentucky Derby (Grade I) and Kentucky Oaks (GI) winner D. Wayne Lukas (471) into second place on the all-time Churchill Downs win list. Romans had 15 wins while Lukas had eight during the 45-day spring session. Bernie Flint stands fourth in the career top five with 414 victories.
Mott, Romans, Lukas and Flint will all be back for the Fall Meet, along with a strong group of Churchill Downs regulars that includes record-setting defending Fall Meet training champ Mike Maker. During the 2008 session, Maker, a former Lukas assistant and son of the late trainer George Maker, won 31 races during the 26-day stand, which demolished the previous record of 20 victories set by Romans during the 27-day Fall Meet of 2003.
Other top trainers with hopes of making their presence felt this fall include Tom Amoss, Greg Foley, Mike Maker, Helen Pitts-Blasi, Ken McPeek, Ian Wilkes, Eddie Kenneally, Bret Calhoun, Albert Stall Jr., Ronny Werner, Lynn Whiting, Steve Margolis, Vickie Foley, Cecil Borel, Tom Proctor, Ralph Nicks, Forrest Kaelin, Bob Holthus, Neil Howard, Dallas Stewart, Paul J. McGee, William “Jinks” Fires, Robert O’Connor II, Angel Montano, David Vance, Tony Reinstedler and David Carroll.
Other Hall of Fame trainers scheduled to participate in the meet are two-time Kentucky Derby winners Nick Zito and Carl Nafzger.
Veteran trainer Hal Wiggins, who won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks with leading Horse of the Year contender Rachel Alexandra, will make the Fall Meet his swan song. Wiggins plans to retire at the end of the meet. So will J. Larry Jones, the 53-year-old Kentucky-born trainer who won the 2008 Kentucky Oaks with Proud Spell and finished second in the Kentucky Derby with Hard Spun (2007) and Eight Belles (2008). Jones’ final starter is expected to be Payton d’Oro in the Grade II, $150,000 Chilukki on Saturday, Nov. 7.
Another trainer scheduled to have horses stabled at Churchill Downs or its Trackside training center include Michael Matz, trainer of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro. Matz has been allotted five stalls for the meet.
One trainer who could have a substantial impact in the short autumn meet is Chicago-based Wayne Catalano, who has been granted 22 stalls. Other new or infrequent visitors to Churchill Downs and Trackside who are scheduled to have horses stabled at one or both facilities include Dale Bennett, Steve Hobby, Judy Hicklin, Rick Jackson, Rebecca Maker, Barbara McBride, Lisa Merritt, Danny Miller, Chuck Peery, Rick Jackson and Elizabeth Gray.
The Churchill Downs Fall Meet begins on Sunday with the first of two “Stars of Tomorrow” programs that are restricted to 2-year-old Thoroughbreds. The 11-race program, topped by the $100,000-added Iroquois Stakes (GIII) and Pocahontas Stakes (GIII), has a post time of 12:40 p.m. ET. The Fall Meet will conclude on Saturday. Nov. 28.
Churchill Downs, the world’s most legendary racetrack, has conducted Thoroughbred racing and presented America’s greatest race, the Kentucky Derby, continuously since 1875. Located in Louisville, the flagship racetrack of Churchill Downs Incorporated (NASDAQ Global Select Market: CHDN) also operates Trackside at Churchill Downs, which offers year-round simulcast wagering at the historic track. Churchill Downs will conduct the 136th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 2010. The track will conduct its 2009 Fall Meet from Sunday, Nov. 1 through Saturday, Nov. 28. Churchill Downs is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships for a record seventh time on November 5 and 6, 2010. Information about Churchill Downs can be found on the Internet at www.churchilldowns.com.