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Stratostar Shines On Any Surface; St. Joe Back To One Turn In Matt Winn; Juveniles Fuel Asmussen's Rise
Hopes for the Allen Paulson Living Trust’s Stratostar were once fairly high, but the 8-year-old gelding has now settled into a groove that any owner and trainer would be thrilled with.
The Ken McPeek-trained son of Pulpit opened the Churchill Downs Spring Meet with a rousing two-length victory in a starter allowance race over yielding turf on May 11. That win over a strong field at that class level marked the sixth consecutive trip to the winner’s circle for Stratostar. The win string, all in starter allowance races, began with his first race of the year at Gulfstream Park and includes four wins on turf, one on traditional dirt and another on Polytrack at Keeneland.
Stratostar has helped McPeek to a strong start through the first 13 days of the 52-day Spring Meet at Churchill Downs. The veteran’s victory is one of eight on the meet for McPeek, who was tied with Steve Asmussen for second on the race for leading trainer and trailed leader Tom Amoss by a single victory.
Owner Michael Paulson sent Stratostar to McPeek in the summer of 2006, but it took him a while to find his current groove. McPeek said patience and work at his Magdalena Farm, which is located near Lexington and has a training track on its grounds, helped put Paulson’s veteran back in the right frame of mind.
“He came in and he’d had some success, but he was off-form pretty good,” McPeek said. “He seemed like he’d lost his confidence. He just didn’t seem like a horse that was interested in training. But he’s pretty confident now.”
Stratostar is obviously a huge force in starter allowance races, with his success coming at claiming levels ranging from $12,500 to $20,000. But McPeek said luck has also been a factor. He was eligible for the $16,000 starter allowance race he won on the Churchill Downs turf, which included horses that had run for a claiming price of $16,000 or less in 2007 and 2008, because he was unable to get Stratostar into a race on the last day of 2006.
“I entered him in a $10,000 claiming race at Turfway on Dec. 31, 2006, but the race didn’t fill,” McPeek recalled. “I brought him back the next day for $12,500 and it filled on Jan. 1, which made him eligible. That’s how he’s managed to win six races in a row, because he was eligible by one day.”
As Stratostar continues his run, McPeek has no plans to adjust a winning formula.
“He’s at the point where he’s just measuring horses the last quarter of a mile,” McPeek said. “Michael and I have talked about changing and running the horse in something else, but right now we’re just going to take it day-by-day.”
Stratostar’s streak has lifted his career record to 12-7-5 in 46 races and boosted his earnings to $301,534.
ST. JOE BACK TO ONE-TURN IN SATURDAY’S MATT WINN – After a brief detour onto the Triple Crown trail, Silverton Hill LLC’s St. Joe has convinced trainer Darrin Miller that the colt’s future lies in races at one-turn distances.
That path begins in Saturday’s seventh running of the $100,000-added Matt Winn Stakes for 3-year-olds at six furlongs. St. Joe will have jockey Tracy Hebert in the saddle as he faces a strong field of six rivals that include Swale (GIII) winner Eaton’s Gift and recent Churchill Downs allowance winner Ling Ling Qi.
Miller will be looking for a return to the form St. Joe displayed in a swift seven-furlong allowance victory over Polytrack at Keeneland on April 13. That race, which followed a pair of disappointing runs early in the year at Gulfstream Park, was so strong that it convinced Miller and the colt’s owners to give him one more try at two-turns in the 1 1/16-mile Coolmore Lexington (GII) at Keeneland on April 19. But St. Joe faded sharply after tracking the early pace and beat only two horses in the field of 11.
“You come back and you run huge like that after two pretty bad performances, and you think we’ll give it (the Coolmore Lexington) a shot,” Miller said. “So we did – and clearly we don’t need to do that again.”
Miller remains puzzled over the poor runs by St. Joe in Florida, which included a loss to Matt Winn rival Eaton’s Gift in the Swale in which the colt finished last and was beaten by 43 ¼ lengths. He followed that with a dismal effort in a one-mile allowance race in which St. Joe finished ninth of 10 horses and lost by 21 lengths.
“He was going into the Swale as good as he’s ever trained,” Miller said. “So that really threw me. It was his first race back off of throat surgery, but he put two bad performances in down there. I’m really not one to blame anything on a racetrack, but maybe – I don’t know. He just didn’t run well there.”
St. Joe’s only previous race at Churchill Downs was a good third-place finish behind Court Vision and Halo Najib in the Iroquois (GIII) at the Louisville track’s one-turn mile. His only concern, given the strength his Iroquois effort and the recent Keeneland win at seven furlongs, is that the Matt Winn’s six furlongs could be too short for St. Joe’s best effort.
“He can run them off their feet going seven, or probably 6 ½ furlongs,” Miller said. “I have some reservations about it – it may be a little short for him.”
St. Joe will bring a career record of 2-1-1 in eight races and earnings of $82,321 into the Matt Winn.
ASMUSSEN’S SPRING MEET RUN FUELED BY JUVENILES – Trainer Steve Asmussen, coming off a sweep of the training titles in the 2007 Spring and Fall Meets at Churchill Downs, has made a quick move in recent days to place himself among the leaders in the battle for 2008 Spring Meet training honors.
Asmussen pulled into a second-place tie with Ken McPeek for second place in the race for “leading trainer” when Winchell Thoroughbreds Retap won the 4th race, a five-furlong maiden event for 2-year-olds. Asmussen and McPeek were one win back of leader Tom Amoss heading into Thursday’s racing.
The success of the Asmussen stable last spring was fueled by its long roster of promising 2-year-olds, and that division has carried Asmussen to the top of the standings in the current meet. Six of his eight victories heading into Thursday’s racing had come in races for juveniles. The only other trainer in the meet with more than one juvenile win is Wesley Ward, who has saddled a pair of 2-year-old winners in four attempts.
Asmussen, whose power-packed stable at Churchill Downs includes reigning “Horse of the Year” Curlin and Louisiana Derby (GII) winner Pyro, is bidding for his third Churchill Downs training title and his sixth overall.
The sprawling Asmussen stable led the nation with 488 total victories in 2007. It was the fourth time that Asmussen had led U.S. trainers in wins.
BARN NOTES – Silverton Hill, LLC’s Dominican, who upset eventual Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in the 2007 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (GI) over Polytrack at Keeneland, is preparing to try something new in his career. Trainer Darren Miller said he plans to run the son of El Corredor on the turf at Churchill Downs in the next few days. Dominican finished 11th behind Street Sense in the Kentucky Derby and has now lost four consecutive races, but ran second behind Self Made Man over Polytrack in a Keeneland allowance race in his only start of 2008. Dominican breezed five furlongs over a “good” track in 1:03.60 on Thursday at Churchill Downs, and Miller said the 4-year-old is ready for his first attempt on the grass. “We need to try it and this looks like a real good time to do it,” said Miller. “I was pleased with his race at Keeneland. He came out of that race super – he looks fantastic and he’s training really well.” Miller said his other Kentucky Derby veteran from 2007, Silverton Hill’s fifth-place finisher Sedgefield, is “pretty much” retired from racing. “He’s just mentally out of the game,” said Miller…Wednesday’s victory by Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Retap in a maiden race for 2-year-olds marked the first U.S. victory for freshman sire Tapit, who won the Wood Memorial (GI) before he finished ninth behind Smarty Jones in the 2004 Kentucky Derby. Tapit’s first winner as a sire came in a race in Mexico…Richland Hills, LLC’s Cougar Cat, runner-up to Fabulous Strike in the 2007 Aristides (GIII) and second to Benny the Bull in the Iowa Sprint at Prairie Meadows, breezed five furlongs over a “good” surface in :59.80 on Thursday. The move was the fastest of 12 works at the distance. The Ronny Werner-trained Cougar Cat has not run since a sixth-place finish behind Junior College in the Bet On Sunshine overnight handicap in November at Churchill Downs.