Steve Asmussen is working on a sweep of 3-year-old stakes races.
The nation's leading trainer was a 3-year-old powerhouse Saturday, sending out long shot Soul Warrior to upset Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the West Virginia Derby. A few minutes later, up at Saratoga Race Course, he won the Jim Dandy Stakes with Kensei.
On Sunday, Asmussen's Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra is the favorite for the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
For this kickoff of the second season, Asmussen rules.
"It's been a good day," the trainer said from Saratoga. "Unbelievable."
Looking ahead to the Haskell, in which his sensational filly will be challenged by Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, Asmussen said: "We'll be happy and have a good dinner tonight and then deal with tomorrow."
Asmussen is having one incredible run, even though he faces a six-month suspension because of a medication infraction in Texas in 2008. He trained two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, and this year has a superstar in Rachel Alexandra, who has run up a seven-race winning streak.
At Mountaineer Casino Racetrack & Resort in Chester, West Virginia, Soul Warrior powered past 4-5 favorite Big Drama to win by a neck. Mine That Bird, making his first start since running third in the Belmont, was another 1 1/2 lengths back.
Soul Warrior ($48 for a $2 win bet), a one-time Kentucky Derby hopeful, came into the 1 1/8th-mile West Virginia Derby off a runner-up finish in the Iowa Derby. The son of Lion Heart has now won three of seven starts and could be a contender for the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 29.
Which brings us to Kensei, a rapidly improving colt who has put together wins in the Dwyer Stakes and the Jim Dandy. Asked if owner Jess Jackson's Kensei would be pointed to the Travers, a race in which Jackson's Rachel Alexandra could run in, Asmussen said: "That would be very improbable, but I am speaking out of turn."
The Travers could match each of the Triple Crown race winners _ Mine That Bird remains on schedule for the Midsummer Derby, while racing fans will know more about Rachel and Summer Bird after the Haskell.
Kensei ($7.50), ridden by Edgar Prado, emerged from a phalanx of horses with three-sixteenths of a mile to go and beat favorite Warrior's Reward by 2 1/4 lengths. The son of Mr. Greeley ran 1 1/8 miles over a fast main track in 1:47.90 and earned $300,000. Charitable Man was third.
In West Virginia, substitute rider Dale Beckner got the biggest win of his 20-year career after replacing Miguel Mena, who missed his flight.
Mine That Bird's jockey Mike Smith blamed himself for making an early move.
"It was just total rider error," Smith said. "I don't like the way I rode him at all."
Big Drama led by at least eight lengths midway through the race but couldn't hold off Soul Warrior, who covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.46.
Mine That Bird's trainer Chip Woolley picked the West Virginia Derby over Sunday's Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park because the track fit his gelding's running style.
"It didn't really work out," Woolley said. "I think he (Smith) did a great job. We just got outrun."
For Asmussen, it's working out well.