Asmussen Hopes To Get 2016 off to a Fast Start

Steve Asmussen entered nine horses for the first three racing days in pursuit of his seventh Oaklawn training title.

“Perfect opening day,” Asmussen said as he rode by the grandstand during training hours on a sunny, unseasonably warm Friday morning. “All I need now is a win picture.”

He’s done plenty of that in Hot Springs since starting his first horse at Oaklawn in 1989, winning 452 races, including 63 stakes, and earning $16,723,196 in purses. Asmussen won 30 races last year to finish second to Chris Hartman, who saddled 34 winners to capture his first Oaklawn training title.

Asmussen’s Oaklawn division is overseen by assistant Darren Fleming, but Oaklawn’s perennial leading trainer (six titles since 2007) has made several trips to Hot Springs in the last month to check on his stock. The trainer, who also has a division at Fair Grounds in the winter, said he believes his large operation is poised for another successful Oaklawn campaign.

“Very excited about the young horses we have,” Asmussen said. “I think we’ve got some great opportunities. I feel like we should have a good meet. I think we’ve got some talented horses with some conditions.”

One of those horses, lightly raced Union Jackson, is scheduled to make his 4-year-old debut in Sunday’s ninth race, a second-level allowance/optional claiming sprint. A winner of 2 of 3 career starts, he is by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin out of Grade 1 winner Hot Dixie Chick.

Asmussen saddled Curlin to win the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G2) and $300,000 Rebel Stakes (G3) in 2007 at Oaklawn. Hot Dixie Chick, who was also trained by Asmussen, won the $60,000 Prima Donna Stakes in 2010 at Oaklawn in her 3-year-old debut.

Union Jackson worked 3 furlongs in :38 Friday morning at Oaklawn.

The Class of 2016

A strong crop of 2-year-olds at the Churchill Downs fall meet could bode well for Oaklawn’s 3-year-old program in 2016.

More than one-third of the winners of dirt maiden special weights races at the Churchill Downs fall meet are training at Oaklawn, including Randy Morse-trained Durango, who is scheduled to make her 3-year-old debut in Friday’s $100,000 Dixie Belle Stakes.

Nine other winners also figure to be stakes candidates. They are: Unexplained for trainer Chris Richard, Whitmore and Piracy for trainer Ron Moquett of Hot Springs, American Dubai and Black Ops for trainer Rodney Richards, Z Royal and Gray Sky for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, Knights Key for trainer Steve Hobby of Hot Springs and Small City Girl for six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen.

“If you win there … there are some pretty good horses,” Morse said of the Churchill fall meet. “I would say Kentucky horses, the 2-year-olds, are probably as tough as anywhere in the country.”

The Magnificent Seven

Seven of the country’s 17-winningest trainers last year will have divisions at Oaklawn in 2016 after horses for Mike Maker arrived Thursday.

The group is headed by Karl Broberg, who won 420 races in 2015 to lead the country for the second consecutive year, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Equibase includes data for trainers with at least one start in North America.

Six-time Oaklawn training champion Steve Asmussen ranked third in victories last year (252), followed by No. 7 Robertino Diodoro (190), No. 8 Maker (184), No. 9 Bret Calhoun (177), No. 15 Mark Casse (159) and No. 17 Scott Becker (158).

All but Maker, a former assistant to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, had strings at Oaklawn in 2015.

Casse, a six-time Sovereign Award winner as Canada’s top trainer, has had a division in Hot Springs since 2014.

Diodoro, who has heavy presence in Southern California, Arizona and Minnesota, made his Oaklawn debut last year.

Oaklawn racing secretary Pat Pope said he couldn’t remember, at least in the last 30 years, this type of collective winning horsepower in Hot Springs. In addition to a rapidly growing purse structure, Pope said Oaklawn is attractive to trainers because they have a chance to run.

“They want to go somewhere they know the races will go, or has more than a fair shot to go,” Pope said, referring to the condition book. “I’m not going to be fortunate enough to tell you every race goes, but enough of them of go in the categories that don’t fill in other jurisdictions.”

Finish Lines

New York-bred stakes winner Get Jets worked a half-mile in :50.60 Friday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Tony Dutrow, who said the 3-year-old Scat Daddy colt should be ready to run in mid-February. Dutrow said he has no races targeted for Get Jets. … Grade 2 winner High Dollar Woman worked 3 furlongs in :36.80 Friday morning at Oaklawn for trainer Steve Hobby. The $300,000 Azeri Stakes (G2) March 19 at Oaklawn is the first major 2016 objective for High Dollar Woman, Hobby said. … The $100,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Sunday at Oaklawn drew a field of nine. The Pippin is the first major local prep for the $600,000 Apple Blossom Handicap (G1) April 15. … Churchill Downs debut winner Unexplained is scheduled to make his 3-year-old debut in a Thursday entry-level allowance/optional claimer at 1 1/16 miles, trainer Chris Richard said.

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