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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.

When Steve Asmussen won his 556th race of 2008 on Nov. 23 to break his own record for North American training wins in a year, he was asked about reaching the 600-win mark. His response? “Five-ninety…maybe.

So much for predictions. Last Thursday night at Delta Downs, Asmussen became the first North American conditioner to win 600 Thoroughbred races in a single year after saddling three winners at Fair Grounds earlier in the afternoon.

It didn’t take long to add to his total on Friday, as Asmussen won the opener at Fair Grounds with Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Tactical, then captured the sixth with another for Winchell, Talon.
Asmussen said the run to 600 began with a pair of stakes wins on the Delta Jackpot undercard Dec. 5 at Delta Downs. “We had a three-day span where we won 16 races,” he said. “We made a huge run.”

Asmussen entered Thursday four wins shy of 600, but quickly cut the countdown in half with impressive performances by a pair of 2-year-olds – Heiligbrodt Racing Stable’s filly East Breaks and Bob Zollars and Mark Wagner’s colt Uno Mas.

In a two-turn maiden race, East Breaks, sent off as the odds-on favorite in a field of nine juvenile fillies, drew off to win by eight lengths.

“She’s a nice filly,” Asmussen said. “I thought she looked a lot better going long, and that’s a good thing.”

A half-hour later, Uno Mas overtook the highly touted Freisan Fire to win a first-level allowance race. The son of Macho Uno had broken his maiden at Fair Grounds on opening weekend.

In Thursday’s eighth race, Asmussen moved within one of the milestone when Coastal Racing’s Stungbythestorm registered a 2 1/2-length score. About four hours later, Storm Trust captured the fifth race at Delta Downs for No. 600.

So now it’s on to 610, or 620, or some other number that may become untouchable.
“It’ll hang on the wall real pretty and we’ll just stare at it,” he said.

Eclipse Award-winning jockey Rosemary Homesister Jr., earned her 2,000 North American victory last Thursday when Rustyshouldrun posted a 1 ¼-length win in the seventh race at Tampa Bay Downs, Fl.

“It felt like it took forever to get that last win,” Homeister said to the Thoroughbred Times. “I can’t even explain the feeling-it’s like winning your first race.”

In 1992 Homeister became the first woman to win an Eclipse Award as North America’s outstanding apprentice jockey. She retired from race riding in November 2004 to become a real estate agent, but returned in June ’06.

Homeister has made 14,996 starts and her mounts have earned $34,527,601 through Monday. She has posted 80 of her wins in stakes races, including seven graded stakes victories, and considers riding Supah blitz to an unplaced finish in the 2003 Kentucky Derby (GI) to be a career highlight.

A Hollywood, Florida, native, Homeister earned her most lucrative victories in a pair of $300,000 races, the 1999 princess Rooney Handicap (G3) at Calder Race Course aboard Princess Pietrina and the 2008 Robert G. Dick Memorial handicap (G3) at Delaware Park aboard Palmilla.

Homeister led all riders in victories as an apprentice at Calder’s Tropical meeting in 1992-’93, and also topped the jockey standings in 2001 at the now-shuttered Hialeah Park. She became the first female jockey to win the Clasico Interactional del Caribe in 2001, when she guided Alexia (Pan) to victory at the former El Comandante Race Track-now known as Hipodromo Camarero, in Puerto Rico.

Santa Anita Derby and Travers Stakes winner Colonel John leads seven 3-year-olds into Friday’s Grade I, $250,000 Malibu Stakes as Santa Anita traditionally opens its 72nd season on the day after Christmas with first post at 2 p.m. central time.

The 57th Malibu, at seven furlongs, is one of three stakes races on the nine-race program that ushers in the track’s 84-day run over Santa Anita’s new Pro-Ride synthetic surface that was successfully introduced during the track’s recent Oak Tree meeting. The nine races attracted 103 entrants, an average of 11 per race.

A winner of 5 of 10 starts while earning $1,468,830, Colonel John has been assigned co-high-weight of 123 pounds and has the glossiest dossier of the Malibu entrants. However, the Kentucky-bred son of 2000 Horse of the Year Tiznow has not contested a sprint distance since breaking his maiden in his second start on Oct. 7, 2007.

The WinStar Farm runner, trained by Eoin Harty, is cutting back in distance from the 1 ¼-miles of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, in which he finished sixth following a nose victory in Saratoga’s Grade I Travers at the same distance.

Garrett Gomez, currently America’s leading rider with earnings of over $23 million, will be reunited with Colonel John on Friday. Ridden by Edgar Prado in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Gomez was aboard in the Travers victory on Aug. 22.

Opponents include Eastern invader Golden Spikes, also assigned 123 pounds; Georgie Boy, a leading Triple Crown candidate earlier this year before sidelined by a hind end injury; 2007 Hollywood CashCall Futurity winner Into Mischief and Bob Black Jack, winner of the Sunshine Millions Dash and a close second to Colonel John in the Santa Anita Derby.

The complete field for the Malibu Stakes, with jockeys and weights in post position order: Into Mischief, Victor Espinoza, 119; Colonel John, Garrett Gomez, 123; Bob Black Jack, David Flores, 119; Golden Spikes, Joel Rosario, 123; Hownownow, Joseph Talamo, 115; Guns On the Table, Rafael Bejarano, 117, and Georgie Boy, Edgar Prado, 119.

In addition to having won his only start at the Malibu distance when breaking his maiden, Colonel John has developed an affinity for synthetic surfaces, posting a 4-2-1 mark in eight starts over them with his sixth behind Ravens Pass in the Breeders’ Cup Classic his only off-the-board finish. He has been training rapidly for his return to sprint competition.

Before falling off the Derby trail earlier this year, Georgie Boy reeled off three successive graded stakes victories that began with the Grade I Del Mar Futurity and was followed by Grade II events, the San Vicente and San Rafael Stakes at Santa Anita. Trained by Kathy Walsh for George Schwary, Georgie Boy returned to action in Oak Tree’s $133,000 Damascus Stakes as the 7-5 favorite on Oct. 25. But the California-bred son of Tribal Run had to settle for fourth behind victorious Into Mischief.

Georgie Boy has posted two swift six furlong breezes in preparation for the Malibu with esteemed Eastern-based jockey Edgar Prado set to ride. With a 4-2-1 record in eight starts, the bay gelding has produced earnings of $503,634.

The lightly-raced Into Mischief is scheduled to make his final career start in the Malibu before heading for stallion duty in Kentucky. He has never finished worse than second in five career starts that have earned $547,080 for owner B. Wayne Hughes. In addition to defeating Georgie Boy when taking the seven-furlong Damascus by two lengths, Into Mischief registered a 13-1 upset by 1¼ lengths over Colonel John in Hollywood Park’s Grade I, CashCall Futurity at 1 1/16 miles last December. Victor Espinoza rides the Harlan’s Holiday colt trained by Richard Mandella.

Golden Spikes will be making his first start on the West Coast for trainer Marty Wolfson. He arrives with a 4-3-0 record in 13 races for earnings of $383,095. His most notable victory was achieved in Calder’s Grade II Carry Back Stakes at six furlongs in July. Joel Rosario will be aboard for the first time.

After winning the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes by 6¼ lengths on last year’s opening day at Santa Anita, Bob Black Jack proceeded to capture the $250,000 Sunshine Millions Dash by 3½ lengths. He most recently finished 1½ lengths behind victorious Johnny Eves when a close fifth in Hollywood Park’s Grade III Vernon O. Underwood Stakes on Nov. 27 following a six-month sabbatical. David Flores rides for trainer James Kasparoff. With a 3-2-1 record in nine starts, Bob Black Jack has banked $444,925 for owners Jeff Harmon and Tim Kasparoff.