At this time last year, Curlin, the future Horse of the Year, had run one race, and that in the hands of another trainer. J Be K has run two races, the first in the care of another trainer. An extension of the scenario would have J Be K running in the Kentucky Derby off of four career starts. Curlin ran in the Derby after three career starts, and no matter his talent he was unable to become the second horse in Derby history--after Apollo in 1882--to win the race after going unraced as a 2-year-old.
Baffert was back in California this winter, training J Be K at Santa Anita, another track with synthetic-surface issues. Before long, Zayat, fed up with Cushion Track, had removed his horses and distributed them to other trainers. One of the beneficiaries was Asmussen, who's never looked like a man who didn't know where his next horse was coming from. Asmussen saddled horses in 2,273 races last year, and they earned almost $24 million.
In J Be K's first start for Asmussen, at the Fair Grounds on Feb. 15, he went six furlongs and won by five lengths. That earned the Silver Deputy-Major Wager colt a shot against Pyro, one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites, in the Louisiana Derby, which will be J Be K's first test around two turns. Kent Desormeaux, whose Hall of Fame career began in his native Louisiana, will ride him for the first time.
"He's won over this track, which is an advantage, and this race will answer a lot of questions," Asmussen said. "I'm concerned about his pedigree, and whether he'll be able to go far enough. We won't know about him until it matters."
Zayat's best Kentucky Derby prospect supposedly is the Asmussen-trained Z Fortune, who ran second, blinded by the Pyro cyclone, in the Risen Star at the Fair Grounds. Z Fortune's next start is scheduled to be the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn Park on March 15. He's had more seasoning, and maybe he's better than J Be K, maybe not. College hoops don't have a corner on March Madness.