Barn Notes 2/16/24

Compiled by Robert Yates

Four consecutive riding doubles have vaulted jockey Keith Asmussen into fourth place in the Oaklawn standings with 16 victories through the first 23 days of racing.

The 16th illustrates the direction Asmussen’s career is trending.

Asmussen guided Booth to a sparkling 4 ¼-length victory in Sunday’s third race, a $140,000 entry-level allowance sprint for 3-year-olds. It was Asmussen’s first time to ride Booth, who is from the first crop of champion Mitole and trained by the jockey’s father and biggest supporter, Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen.

Asmussen, Oaklawn’s all-time leading trainer, continues to steer more and more of his accomplished and/or promising runners like Booth to Keith Asmussen, 25, who resumed his riding career in the fall of 2022 after graduating earlier in the year with a master’s degree in professional accounting from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business.

The reason is simple.

“He earned it,” Steve Asmussen said Sunday. “He’s put in the work and it’s great to see him have success. But what is unbelievably comfortable for me is the horsemanship that he has and how he comes by it, knowing these horses, knowing horses as well as he does. Not everything needs the same trip or benefits from the same trip, and I think that he’s really showing a keen sense of individual horses and putting them where they need to be to have success.”

In addition to Booth (2 for 3 overall), Keith Asmussen rode millionaire Grade 2 winner Private Creed for the first time in a Nov. 9 allowance race at Churchill Downs and Magic Tap, fourth in last year’s $1 million G1-Pennsylvania Derby, for the first time in a Jan. 13 allowance event at Oaklawn. Like Booth, Private Creed and Magic Tap – also Steve Asmussen trainees – were winners.

“To ride horses of that caliber is why you do this,” Keith Asmussen said Sunday. “When you ride horses at that level, that’s what you’re going to think about on your deathbed.”

Booth was the 79th career winner for Asmussen, whose 5-10 frame forced him to waive his apprentice weight allowance. His first victory came July 26, 2020, at Lone Star Park aboard Inis Gluaire for his father. They teamed to win the $113,647 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity the following month at Lone Star Park with future Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock.

Keith Asmussen had six victories in 2020, but didn’t ride in 2021 after resuming his college studies. He had one victory in 2022. Asmussen won 60 races last year, including 25 at Oaklawn to finish ninth in the 2022-2023 standings. He is on pace to smash that total in 2023-2024. Asmussen ($1,126,714) has almost already matched his purse earnings from the 2022-2023 Oaklawn meeting ($1,284,880).

“Just feeling more comfortable with more repetitions,” Asmussen said. “I feel like I’m really behind them and balanced and square. I do believe that horses are carrying me as well now as they ever have. I feel like that it just kind of exudes confidence in me.”

Asmussen’s recent surge has caught the eye of retired jockey Robby Albarado, who was Oaklawn’s leading rider in 1996 and 1997 and won more than 5,000 races in his career. Albarado works as an exercise rider at Oaklawn for trainer Kenny McPeek and is the agent for jockey Joseph Bealmear, the meet’s leading apprentice.

Albarado lauded Asmussen for his ride aboard Payne ($33.20) in Friday’s ninth race, a $143,000 allowance for older horses at one mile. Asmussen maneuvered Payne around a tiring rival turning for home, then guided the 9-year-old gelding to the rail. Payne collared two horses in the final 50 yards to win by a neck.

“Loved it,” Albarado said. “Look left. Good jockeys look left. He’s come so far.”

Asmussen has ridden 15 winners at the meet for his father. Payne is also among eight winners at the meet for Steve Asmussen as an owner.

Steve Asmussen rode 63 winners in 1982-1984 before turning to training after he became too heavy to ride. Keith Asmussen’s 64th career victory came Dec. 9 at Oaklawn aboard Hern for his father.

Finish Lines

Entries will be taken and post positions drawn Sunday for four stakes Feb. 24 at Oaklawn, including the $1.25 million G2-Rebel for 3-year-olds. The 1 1/16-mile Rebel is Oaklawn’s third Kentucky Derby points race and final prep for the $1.5 million G1-Arkansas Derby on March 30 … Barber Road, runner-up in the 2022 Arkansas Derby, is scheduled to make his 2024 debut in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race Saturday at Gulfstream Park for trainer John Ortiz. Barber Road ($795,203 in career earnings) is unraced since early June. He was gelded in December, Ortiz said. “It all depends on how he comes back from the race,” Ortiz said, referring to a possible Oaklawn appearance. “The plan, long term this year with Barber Road, is to make him a millionaire. So, wherever the money is, that’s where we’re going to go.” … Ortiz said Ice Orchid is being pointed to Oaklawn’s $400,000 G2-Azeri Stakes or older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles March 9. Ice Orchid has run second in two stakes at the 2023-2024 Oaklawn meeting. Ortiz split his stable between Oaklawn and Florida this winter.