If you check out the entries, you'll see that trainer Steve Asmussen has a horse in this Saturday's Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby. What's new? Asmussen has sent a horse postward five times in the most recent six editions of the race. And he's won it three times.
Real Dandy came home a winner for Asmussen in 2005; as did Zanjero in 2007; as did Soul Warrior in 2009. Awesome Bet will be Asmussen's West Virginia Derby contender this year. The colt earned his trip to Mountaineer via a photo-finish score in his most recent start, the $100,000 Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park on July 9.
Awesome Bet's victory at Delaware had its heart-stopping moments. He was last in the field of nine, trailing by 13 lengths, through the opening half-mile. With a furlong to go he was in sixth position, but driving hard, and at the wire he was in front by a neck.
His effort was reminiscent of Real Dandy's six years ago at Mountaineer, when he was the trailer in the 11-horse field through the opening half, but won by a driving 1 ¼ lengths. The Barbaro was run at one mile and 70 yards. The West Virginia Derby will stretch him out to 1 1/8 miles. Awesome Bet should like the added distance.
The career stats accumulated by Awesome Bet now include ten starts, three wins, a trio of placings and purse earnings of $134,304. He was bred in Kentucky by the Phipps Racing Partnership, and was purchased by Texan Mike McCarty for $210,000 at the 2010 Keeneland April Sale for two-year-olds.
McCarty, age 63, is based in Austin and owns a general contracting company. He's been in the Thoroughbred business for 12 years, and one of his best horses to date is Private Vow, who was a nine-length winner of the Grade 2 Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park in 2005, and 2 ¼-length winner of the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs that same year. Private Vow was also an Asmussen trainee.
Awesome Bet has been more of a mystery. His sire, Awesome Again, won the 1998 Breeders' Cup Classic, and complied a career race resume that included seven graded stakes scores and $4.34 million in purse earnings. Awesome Bet's dam, Ellie's Moment, was a multiple stakes winner at distances that included nine furlongs, and was graded stakes-placed at 1 ¼ miles.
But it took Awesome Bet six tries to break his maiden – he finally did so at Fair Grounds in New Orleans on March 11 of this year. Awesome Bet finished unplaced in his initial stakes try, the $200,000 Lone Star Derby at Lone Star Park in Arlington, Texas, on Memorial Day. But in his next start, in the Barbaro, at 9-1 odds, his potential suddenly came to the forefront. And now he's 6-1 in the West Virginia Derby morning line.
He will be ridden on Saturday by Alan Garcia, a 25-year-old alumnus of the Jockey School in his native Peru. Garcia's ever-expanding achievements include a victory aboard Da' Tara in the 2008 Belmont Stakes and aboard Acoma in the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland in 2010.
The Asmussen-Garcia team will also try to score in Saturday's $125,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes at Mountaineer with Omniscient, a five-year-old horse who was a black-type winner at Monmouth Park in 2010. As of August 1, Asmussen's career total of stakes triumphs numbered 662.
Asmussen trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin. He trained Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra. Asmussen's victories at all levels total 5,892. He's only 45 years old, and if there's anyone who may someday surpass the late Dale Baird's world-record total of 9,445 career training wins, it's him.
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