CHESTER - One of the keys to being a successful Thoroughbred trainer is putting the right horses in the right spots. And that's why careful notice should be accorded a colt named Betweenhereandcool, who Steve Asmussen will send postward in The Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Casino Racetrack and Resort on Saturday.
To date, Asmussen has started eight horses in the West Virginia Derby and he has been victorious a record four times - with Real Dandy in 2005; Zanjero in 2007; Soul Warrior in 2009; and Macho Macho in 2012.
None of four was a favorite when he exited the Mountaineer starting gate. But all of them ended up in the winner's circle. They were ridden by different - Mark Guidry, Shaun Bridgmohan, Dale Beckner and Corey Nakatani. The rhyme to Asmussen's reason is that he plans well and knows what he's doing.
Asmussen's stable is an exercise in multitudes. He has been a licensed trainer since 1986, and through Thursday, his horses had made 30,895 career starts, from which they had gained 6,532 wins.
The latter figure trails only the 9,445 wins achieved by the late Dale Baird, who spent most of his 4-decade training career based at Mountaineer. He's the odds-on choice as the conditioner who will eventually surpass Baird's world record.
It should be further noted that Asmussen's overall career strike rate is a splendid 21.1 percent. At Mountaineer, he has done even better: 50 career starts; 16 wins; a strike rate of exactly 32 percent.
Asmussen's triumphs at Mountaineer include six events on West Virginia Derby undercards, one of which was the $200,000 West Virginia Governor's Stakes with Tapizar. Career purse earnings by Asmussen-trained horses now total $210.8 million. At Mountaineer alone, they've averaged $50,711.52 in earnings per effort.
Betweenhereandcool has been a colt who requires patience. He was winless in his initial three career starts before graduating from the maiden ranks in mid-April of this year at Oaklawn Park.
In early June, Betweenhereandcool was a 2-length winner of a one-mile allowance at Churchill Downs. He followed that effort with his first stakes try, finishing second by a neck in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows on June 29.
The Iowa Derby is a 1 1/16-mile race, just a half-furlong short of the 1 1/8-mile West Virginia Derby distance. Two of the last three West Virginia Derby winners Concord Point in 2010 and Prayer for Relief in 2011 - prepped for the race via Iowa Derby triumphs.
And consider the Asmussen-trained Soul Warrior. At odds of 23-1, he upset favored Big Drama and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird in the 2009 West Virginia Derby. Soul Warrior also shipped to Mountaineer after a second-place Iowa Derby effort.
Betweenhereandcool has a career record that includes six starts, two wins, two placings and purse earnings of $126,600. His sire is the recently deceased Unbridled's Song, who was a multiple Grade 1 winner during his own racing days.
Charming N Lovable, the dam of Betweenhereandcool, was a stakes winner at the one-mile distance on the grass at Hollywood Park. She was also stakes-placed at 8 furlongs on the grass at Louisiana Downs. Auctioned for $50,000 as a yearling at Keeneland, Betweenhereandcool is owned by Jerry Durant, whose royal blue, white and yellow racing silks were also carried by Macho Macho.
That colt was a maturing competitor when he came to Mountaineer last year. The same could be said of Soul Warrior. Each of them went to the West Virginia Derby post with six starts, two wins and multiple placings on their resumes. They were right where Betweenhereandcool is now in terms of development.