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Asmussen Active in Saturday's Old Hickory, Pontalba Stakes

Eclipse Award-winning conditioner Steve Asmussen – also Fair Grounds’ defending trainer champion last season – will be prominently represented in both stakes on Saturday’s opening weekend program of the 2009-2010 Fair Grounds season.

In the 32nd running of $60,000 Old Hickory Stakes for 2-year-olds, Asmussen sends out Kirk Robison’s Western Smoke, winner of his last three in a row including Monmouth Park’s Grade III Sapling at last asking on Sept. 5.

Earlier Saturday, in the 38th renewal of the Pontalba for juvenile fillies, Asmussen has Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s Certain Pride and Christopher Bardasian’s Right to Rule both slated to go to the post. The latter finished third in Remington’s $52,000 E. L. Gaylord Memorial Oct. 10 while the Heiligbrodt filly was second in Zia Park’s $60,000 Permian Basin Stakes Oct. 18.

Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. gets the mount on Western Smoke in the Old Hickory and Certain Pride in the Pontalba, with Shane Sellers slated for the saddle aboard Right to Rule.

The two local six furlong sprints help complement the full card simulcasts of Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships from Santa Anita, culminating with the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Turf and the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Strong competition for Western Smoke in the Old Hickory is B C. Ltd.’s Comedero, undefeated in his two lifetime starts with James Graham listed in the irons, and the field is completed by Mt. McSauba, Curt Bourque; LTB Inc.’s Vito Filitto, Vernon Lebron; Padua Stable’s Enumerate, Shane Sellers; and U V M Stables’ Auspicious Risk, Ramsey Zimmerman.

Pop-A-Top LLC’s Red Hot Buddha, heroine of Louisiana Downs’ $50,000 Princess Stakes July 18 merits consideration against Asmussen’s pair in the Pontalba, part of a contentious group completed by Robert Wilensky’s Blading Gold Ring, Richard Davis’s Greeley’s Rocket, and Bryton Racing LLC’s Passion Tamer.