Reade Baker, who plans to enter Asserting Bear in the Spiral Stakes, has a history of stakes success at Turfway Park.
He won two of the 2008 Kentucky Cup Day of Champions races, taking the Sprint with Fatal Bullet, later named Canada’s Sovereign Award Horse of the Year, and the Kentucky Cup Distaff with Bear Now, who won the Sovereign Award as champion older mare the same year. Like Asserting Bear, Fatal Bullet and Bear Now were owned by Bear Stables Ltd.
Asserting Bear has two wins, a second, and a third in seven starts, six of them coming in his 2-year-old season. He broke his maiden on the turf in his second start, pushing the leader all the way and getting up at the wire. After finishing off the board in the Summer Stakes, Asserting Bear reeled off three excellent races in restricted stakes, finishing third in the Cup and Saucer, winning the Coronation Futurity, and finishing second in the Kingarvie, all at Woodbine.
In his first start of 2014, Asserting Bear was fifth, beaten less than four lengths, in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. Baker put blinkers back on for that race after running without them the previous three starts.
“We put the blinkers back on for the Sam Davis, and it helped keep his attention," Baker said. "He’s not the easiest horse to train. He doesn’t apply himself at all in the morning. But the cooler weather may help him. When it was 86 degrees and 90 percent humidity down here (at Palm Beach Downs in Florida), he trained poorly, more so than any of the other horses.
“He doesn’t need the lead but he’ll need to stay in the race,” Baker continued. “We’ll look for a stalking trip, but maybe 11 other horses will also be looking for that, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Joe Rocco, aboard for the Sam F. Davis, will be aboard for the Spiral and Baker expects that consistency to help.
Asserting Bear had his final work for the Spiral on Saturday in Florida, breezing five furlongs in 1:03 flat. He arrived at Turfway Monday morning with a plan to gallop over the Polytrack on Wednesday.
Poker Player In
According to Turfway’s assistant racing secretary and stakes coordinator Tia Murphy, trainer Wayne Catalano has moved Battaglia Memorial runner-up Poker Player from “considering” to “expected to enter.”
'Big Bang' Lexicon Coming
Bazinga! is part of pop culture vocabulary now, and Big Bazinga hopes to make his name part of the Derby conversation. The odds are against it.
However, Big Bazinga has shown he can come from off the pace, and trainer Katerina Vasilieva is looking for a another effort like that on Saturday.
“He’s coming off an excellent race,” Vasilieva said, referring to Big Bazinga’s out-of-the-clouds runner-up finish going 7 1/2 furlongs on turf at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 22. “He’s been racing and training all winter in Florida, and he’s very fit. I’m excited to see him run.”
Big Bazinga broke his maiden at first asking on the Polytrack at Woodbine, coming from off the pace to win by a neck. In his next start he was second in the 1 1/16-mile Grey Stakes at Woodbine. In his 2014 debut, the Holy Bull Stakes,Big Bazinga finished last of 11, beaten 33 lengths.
“In the Grey he went to the lead and he got caught,” Vasilieva said. “He has learned to relax and sit off the pace and come with a late run, although coming into the cooler weather here he might want to be closer to the pace this time.”
Big Bazinga shipped in to Turfway on Saturday. After jogging Monday, he galloped a mile and a half Tuesday morning over the Turfway Polytrack.
Luis Contreras, who won the Sovereign Award as Canada’s leading jockey in 2011 and 2012, was aboard for the most recent race at Gulfstream and has the mount again Saturday.
Vasilieva, 31, took out her trainer’s license in 2011 after working for Baker and as an assistant to trainer Michael Pino. She currently has 16 horses in her stable, which moves between Woodbine and Palm Meadows Training Center in Florida.
Entries for the Horseshoe Casino Cincinnati Spiral Stakes will be drawn Wednesday.
Edited Turfway Park release