LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Turned out Steve Asmussen had little impact on the Kentucky Derby trail in 2010, which is not to say that Asmussen won't have a say in the proceedings on Kentucky Derby Day.
Asmussen has horses for three of the five Derby Day undercard stakes, two of whom might wind up as major stakes players this summer. Hot Dixie Chick will make her second start of the season as the prohibitive favorite in the Eight Belles Stakes. The Grade 3, $100,000 Eight Belles, carded at 7 1/2 furlongs, drew a field of seven, with the other six quite possibly at Hot Dixie Chick's mercy.
The Asmussen-trained Kensei has a task looking much more daunting: He's part of a blockbuster 13-horse field in the Grade 2, $250,000 Churchill Downs Handicap. Probably the deepest of five Derby undercard stakes, the seven-furlong CD Cap also drew Munnings, Hull, Warrior's Reward, Musket Man, and last year's winner, Accredit. Cool Coal Man was entered in the Churchill Downs Handicap and in the Alysheba Stakes here on Friday.
Asmussen's third stakes runner Saturday is Rated Fiesty, a lesser player in the Grade 1, $300,000 Humana Distaff, a seven-furlong dash that drew a field of 10. Informed Decision won the race in 2009, and almost certainly will be favored to take this year's edition despite finishing third in her 2010 debut, the Grade 1 Madison Stakes at Keeneland. Dr. Zic and Dubai Majesty, one-two in the Madison, also were entered in the Distaff, as was the fast filly Warbling.
Asmussen said Wednesday morning he was well pleased with the way both Kensei and Hot Dixie Chick had trained since they made their seasonal debut in March, Hot Dixie Chick winning a lesser stakes race at Oaklawn, and Kensei finishing a bang-up second to Cash Refund in the Duncan Kenner at Fair Grounds. While calling Hot Dixie Chick "very special," Asmussen said that the filly holds back her best for actual races.
"She is not a tout," Asmussen said. "She is a very easygoing horse in the morning."
Kensei, making his first start since last fall's Belmont Park meet, showed surprising speed from post 1 in the Duncan Kenner, and held his own with wickedly fast Cash Refund at a six-furlong trip probably shorter than his best.
The Grade 1, $500,000 Woodford Reserve, carded for nine furlongs on grass, and going as the race before the Derby, attracted nine entrants. Two Californians, Battle of Hastings and Loup Breton, rank among the top contenders, and Loup Breton was supplemented to the race for a $25,000 fee. Also in the Woodford Reserve are Grade 1 winner Court Vision and Blues Street, who captured the $500,000 Mervin Muniz Handicap at Fair Grounds in his most recent start.
Derby Day's other turf stakes, the $200,000 Distaff Turf Mile, drew a field of eight horses, among them the 2009 winner, Tizaqueena. Tizaqueena returned from a winter break in fine Fair Grounds form, and won the Bayou Handicap in her most recent start there. Phola also wintered well in Florida for trainer Todd Pletcher. The Distaff Turf Mile also includes Diamondrella, who occasionally flashed top-class form during her 2009 campaign.