With some important Triple Crown prep races on tap for the weekend of March 8, many trainers are looking for victories that could bring them closer to stamping their contenders' tickets for the first Saturday in May.
When Steve Asmussen considered the chances of his talented colt Pyro in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) at Fair Grounds, he was cautious, yet optimistic.
Pyro, a son of Pulpit owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds, is one of the early favorites among this year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) nominees, as well as the 7-5 morning line choice in the Louisiana Derby.
"We have an extremely talented individual in Pyro without the maturity of horses like Curlin or Zanjero have exhibited through their experiences," said Asmussen during a National Thoroughbred Racing Association teleconference March 4.
Pyro, who covered four furlongs in :50.80 in a March 3 workout, will enter the Louisiana Derby off an impressive two-length victory over Z Fortune in the Feb. 9 Risen Star Stakes (gr. III).
Asmussen said he felt good about the colt's recent work. "It was a lot smoother, like a horse that had accepted his race, and was in the middle of what he was going to do," he said in comparison to the aggressive workout Pyro posted prior to the Risen Star.
"Individually and pedigree wise, (Pyro) is on the warm side, and little bit anxious," Asmussen continued. "His state of mind and focus is extremely important to us at this stage, and I just want him to concentrate and go into the race realizing the big picture."
Asmussen said timing-wise and talent-wise, Pyro is a prime candidate for the Run for the Roses. Depending on the outcome of the Louisiana Derby, the colt could make his next start in the April 12 Toyota Bluegrass Stakes (gr. I) at Keeneland.
"He prepared for the (Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup) Juvenile (gr. I) there, and I was pleased with how he trained over the (synthetic) racetrack," Asmussen noted, adding that the wet weather on Breeders' Cup Day last year had caused Pyro to become unsettled in the race, in which he finished second to War Pass.
"I don't think he focused as good as he should have," Asmussen continued. "He still ran a respectable race, but with time and maturity, I'm hoping to have a different horse mentally going into the big race (the Derby)."
Asmussen said other horses that are sure to show competition to Pyro in the Louisiana Derby include Tale of Ekati and Majestic Warrior, as well as stablemate J Be K, though he is still a bit green.
"J Be K is a tremendously talented 3-year-old," said Asmussen of the colt, who is owned by Zayat Stables. "He had a great foundation and works before his victory at the Fair Grounds (Feb. 15 allowance race).
"He has a lot of bottom in him as far as distance works. I'm concerned pedigree-wise, if he can go far enough," Asmussen added of the 1 1/16-mile Louisiana Derby. "But training wise, he goes over the ground extremely easily, and those that have ridden him have a lot of confidence in him."