Trainer Steve Asmussen, who leads the nation in wins in 2004, saddles Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's unbeaten and heavily favored Lunarpal in Churchill Downs' $125,000-added Kentucky Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) on Saturday.Asmussen is seeking his third straight win in the 5 1/2-furlong race for 2-year-olds.
The Kentucky Breeders' Cup, which includes a purse supplement of $50,000 from the Breeders' Cup Fund, is one of two stakes races scheduled at Churchill Downs on Saturday. The race shares the local spotlight on an 11-race card with the $150,000-added Dogwood Breeders' Cup (gr. III) for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 mile. That race was originally scheduled for May 30, but was one of six races canceled that day due to severe weather and a tornado warning.
Lunarpal has been installed as the 4-5 favorite in a field of five juveniles in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup. The son of Successful Appeal turned heads with a sharp victory in his racing debut at Keeneland and then dazzled 140,000 fans at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day with a five-length romp under regular jockey Shane Sellers in the $100,000 Three Chimneys Juvenile.
Asmussen, who won the last two renewals of the Kentucky Breeders' Cup with Heiligbrodt Racing Stable's Posse (2002) and Winchell Thoroughbreds' Cuvee (2003), is not surprised to be favored to win the race for a third consecutive year. But Asmussen admits to being a bit surprised to be in that position with unarpal, who took a while to distinguish himself from other talented 2-year-olds in his care.
"The first time he ran I was very surprised at how well he did it," the trainer said. "Shane came back talking about how much he had left in him and then on Derby Day he proved it."
Lunarpal is not an imposing physical specimen, and Asmussen said that was one factor that caused him to be overlooked early when his 2-year-olds were being assessed.
"He definitely wasn't showing off on anybody or running away and hiding from them," he said. "He just did everything right and showed enough ability to come run at Keeneland, obviously. But he has excelled in the afternoon."
Sellers will again ride Lunarpal, who will carry highweight of 121 pounds.
Lunarpal's opponents include a supplemental entry in Consolidator, who was made eligible for the race by trainer D. Wayne Lukas for a fee of $6,250, or 5% of the purse. Robert and Beverly Lewis' Storm Cat colt was fifth to Lunarpal's stablemate, Primal Storm, in his only start.
The 5-2 second choice is Frank L. Jones, Jr.'s Smoke Warning, a son of Smoke Glacken who has one win in two starts for trainer Dale Romans, who will also saddle 7-2 shot Maximus C. $125,000 Kentucky Breeders' Cup (gr. III), 2-year-olds, 5 1/2 furlongs
Post/Horse (Weight) Jockey, ML Odds
1. Cat Tourn (115) Brian Hernandez, Jr., 15-1
2. Smoke Warning (116) Mark Guidry, 5-2
3. Maximus C (117) Robby Albarado, 7-2
4. S-Consolidator (115) Rafael Bejarano, 5-1
5. Lunarpal (121) Shane Sellers, 4-5