Trainer Steve Asmussen has assembled a strong raiding party for Zia Park’s feast of stakes races on Wednesday, and the Hall of Famer may have double or triple helpings on Thanksgiving Eve.
Asmussen’s key players are Untrapped, the 8-5 morning-line favorite in the $200,000 Zia Park Derby; Ever So Clever in the $300,000 Zia Park Oaks; and Iron Fist, pegged as the 4-5 choice in the $150,000 Zia Park Championship.
Untrapped merits the favorite’s role in the Zia Park Derby after his breakthrough in the Oklahoma Derby (G3), beating next-out Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) winner Battle of Midway. The nicely-bred son of Trappe Shot had been knocking on the door all season, with placings in the Lecomte (G3), Risen Star (G2), Rebel (G2), Ohio Derby (G3), and Indiana Derby (G3), and his only unplaced efforts coming in the Arkansas Derby (G1) and Kentucky Derby (G1). Untrapped will try to keep his newfound momentum going while turning back slightly to 1 1/16 miles.
Chief Know It All has won both starts since being claimed for $100,000 at Churchill Downs by Robertino Diodoro. Dispatched to Canada’s Western provinces, the Flashy Bull colt scored narrowly in the Canadian Derby (G3) at Northlands Park and the British Columbia Derby (G3) at Hastings.
Blueblood You’re to Blame hopes to provide a similarly swift return on investment, having just sold for $440,000 last week – the top price of Keeneland November’s eighth session. Now owned by Peter Redekop B C Ltd. and newly arrived in the Mike Maker barn, he’ll look to put it all together after showing glimpses of talent for Chad Brown. By Distorted Humor and out of Bon Jovi Girl (a Malibu Moon half-sister to three-time Eclipse Award champion Gio Ponti), the well-named sophomore has tended to close too late in his stakes attempts, as exemplified by his second to West Coast in the Easy Goer, third in the Bay Shore (G3), and fourth in the Pat Day Mile (G3).
Two even pricier purchases are in the line-up. Steely Resolve, an $875,000 OBS April juvenile by Candy Ride out of Grade 3 winner Fencelineneighbor, stretches out from a debut maiden score sprinting. If that move sounds familiar, it’s reminiscent of Pavel’s trajectory for the same Reddam Racing/Doug O’Neill connections. Pavel went straight into the Jim Dandy (G2), winding up fourth, and Steely Resolve figures this isn’t quite as ambitious. Godolphin’s Cedartown, a $620,000 buy also by Candy Ride, is a three-quarter brother to multiple Grade 2 hero Danzing Candy. The Mike Stidham trainee makes his stakes premiere after being awarded a Keeneland allowance victory via disqualification.
Although Ever So Clever is the 2-1 second choice on the Zia Park Oaks morning line, the Medaglia d’Oro filly has a lengthier resume than 8-5 favorite Proud and Fearless.
Placed in the Pocahontas (G2) and Golden Rod (G2) at two, Ever So Clever took a couple of starts to hit her stride this season, but did so in deep-closing fashion in the Fantasy (G3). Asmussen has raced her just twice since her troubled ninth in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). She showed little when a resuming sixth in the Iowa Oaks (G3), received another freshening, and responded with a rallying second to Champagne Room in the Remington Park Oaks. Ever So Clever can take another step forward here, especially with a pace set-up conducive to her style.
Proud and Fearless, who broke her maiden for a $50,000 tag at Fair Grounds, has improved markedly for Larry Jones. The Brereton Jones homebred hung tough for a half-length second to It Tiz Well in the Delaware Oaks (G3), and last time out, she was a decent fifth behind the same rival, as well as presumptive divisional champion Abel Tasman, in the Cotillion (G1).
Brereton Jones also bred, but sold, Kell Paso, who’s yet to finish out of the top two in New Mexico. Successful in the El Paso Times and runner-up in the Island Fashion and Sunland Park Oaks, her lone blot was an 11th in the Fantasy, and she’s rebounded after taking six months off. The O’Neill-trained Sandy’s Surprise goes turf-to-dirt after flopping in the Autumn Miss (G3), while ex-Jerry Hollendorfer pupil The Incident has already romped in her debut on this circuit. Unbeaten Mountain Goddess tries a route, and stakes company, for the first time in the 1 1/16-mile affair, and speedy Escape Clause attempts to transfer her winning attitude from Western Canada.
The 1 1/8-mile Zia Park Championship features Iron Fist, a solid fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile earlier this month. A Tapit half-brother to Grade 1 vixen Sweet Lulu, and full brother to Grade 2 scorer Anchor Down, Iron Fist was a stakes bridesmaid until making hay in well-chosen spots this year. He’s racked up four stakes wins, most notably the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker H. (G3), and his defeat of Code West, the defending Zia Park champion, in the Governor’s Cup at Remington two back, implies he’ll have his measure here.
Code West has since captured the local prep, the Veterans, over Zia newcomer Hereditary (a Phipps-bred son of Medaglia d’Oro and 2005 Breeders’ Cup Distaff [G1] heroine Pleasant Home). Diodoro fields a consistent contender in Way Striking, involved in the finish of his last five stakes appearances and now employing the turf-to-dirt angle.
Asmussen also has chances in the two $75,000 sprint stakes. In the Zia Park Sprint, the barn relies on beautifully bred Counterforce, who’s been hit or miss since his promising score in the 2016 Bachelor at Oaklawn. The Smart Strike colt from Rags to Riches’ family must tackle the home team led by Redneck Humor, riding a six-race winning streak, and venerable nine-year-old Forest Mouse; Diodoro’s new recruit Hammers Vision; and the ex-Todd Pletcher Fact Finding, making his debut for Redekop and Maker after just selling for $155,000 at Keeneland November.
Locally based K P Wildcat enters the companion $75,000 Zia Park Distaff in razor-sharp form, recording her third win in a row in her Chaves County title defense, and Tijuana missed by a head in a lucrative state-bred event over this track and trip in her latest. Thus Asmussen’s Christina’s Comet, who shortens up off a pair of allowance victories, must up her game to improve upon her 4-0-1-1 mark at six furlongs. Transplanted Midwesterners Game Time Decision and Super Humor, and former East Coast resident Summer House, add further geographical diversity.
Topping the morning line for the $140,000 Eddy County for New Mexico-bred juveniles are Blazing Navarone and Indian Jack, the respective third and fourth from the New Mexico Classic Cup Juvenile Championship. None of the 12 entrants has raced beyond sprint distances, so it’s a case of who prospers most on the step up to one mile and 70 yards.
The action-packed card opens with a trio of Quarter Horse stakes as a prelude to the six Thoroughbred stakes.