Wednesday Notes: Smitten Using Saturday's LaCombe as FG Oaks Prep

 

By Graham Ross, Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS (Wednesday, February 27, 2013) – Last season it was Brereton Jones’s Believe You Can who parlayed a win in the Grade II Fair Grounds Oaks to another in the Grade I Kentucky Oaks a few weeks later for trainer Larry Jones. Four years ago it was that same owner’s Proud Spell who pulled off that same graded Oaks double for that same trainer.

But with the Jones-trained duet of Susan Knoll’s Blue Violet and Bret Jones’s Dancinginthecircle third and fifth, respectively, in last Saturday’s Grade III Rachel Alexandra Stakes as the final prep for the upcoming $500,000 Fair Grounds Oaks on Louisiana Derby Day March 30, is the trainer now somewhat limited in his potential possibilities for another Oaks double?

Check again after this weekend, when Fox Hill Farms’ Smitten goes to the post in Saturday’s $75,000 Allen LaCombe Memorial Stakes over the Stall-Wilson Turf Course at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots.

That race for sophomore fillies is slated for about 7 1/2-furlongs over the local lawn but may be transferred to the main track due to recent rains in southeastern Louisiana.

However, that yet-to-be decided detail won’t matter to trainer Jones.

“We entered her this morning – turf or dirt,” said Jones Wednesday of Smitten, who missed the Rachel Alexandra when his Tapit filly had to lose a week of training due to a minor issue. “We need to run in this race (LaCombe Memorial) if we’re going to make it to the Fair Grounds Oaks with her. She’s been training well since that little setback. She went five-eighths (1:02.60) last Sunday.

“She didn’t run bad in the one race she did run on grass,” said Jones. “It was the first start of her career back at Keeneland last fall, and she broke slow, but once she got going (from last in the 12-horse field) she rallied on the outside and closed very well to get fourth. Hopefully, this race Saturday will put us right back into the Oaks picture.”

ASMUSSEN’S ASCENT TO SECOND ALL-TIME LEADING TRAINER IMMINENT – Eleven-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Steve Asmussen moved up to third on the list of Thoroughbred racing’s all-time leading trainers when Zayat Stable’s Skinny won the seventh race Feb. 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots to move the ubiquitous conditioner past the Maryland-based K. T. (King) Leatherbury.

What looms now for Asmussen is the chance to pass Hall of Fame trainer JackVan Berg (and 10-time Fair Grounds leading trainer)as the nation’s second-leading all-time conditioner.

Through Tuesday, Van Berg, had 6,417 lifetime wins as a trainer while Asmussen had amassed 6,384 career victories as a conditioner. However, Asmussen was credited with 57 wins in 2013 through Tuesday while Van Berg, whose career has slowed down in recent years, had saddled one winner so far this year.

Given the torrid pace of Asmussen’s career over the last few years, his 33-win deficit behind Van Berg could be erased before the 2013 Fair Grounds season comes to a close.

Of Asmussen’s 6,384 wins, 848 of them (14%) have come at Fair Grounds.

Dale Baird is North America’s all-time leading trainer with 9,445 wins.

Asmussen was inducted into the Fair Grounds Hall of Fame in 2011, while Van Berg achieved that honor two decades prior, in 1991.

Through Sunday, Asmussen, in pursuit of his 12th training title at Fair Grounds, was credited with 26 wins and was tied for second with conditioner Bret Calhoun in the 2012-2013 Fair Grounds trainer standings. Both were four wins in arrears of nine-time Fair Grounds trainer champion Tom Amoss, who had saddled 30 winners through that date.

Racing resumes Thursday at Fair Grounds with a nine-race program beginning at 1 p.m.