With 10,000 Wins Under His Belt, Asmussen Turns Attention to Rebel Stakes

Oaklawn Barn Notes by Robert Yates

Contact: Jennifer Hoyt, jhoyt@oaklawn.com

(501) 363-4305

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Winners Circle after win #10,000 for Hall of Fame Trainer, Steve Asmussen

Photo Credit: Coady Photography

With 10,000 Wins Under His Belt, Asmussen Turns Attention to Rebel Stakes

Preparing to watch his daughter, trainer Sherry Rhea, run Mister Snickers in the 13th and final race April 10, 2021, at Oaklawn, Stanley Roberts was more interested in talking about the trainer who won the 12th race.

“That Asmussen is something else,” Roberts, the semi-retired owner/trainer from Forrest City, Ark., said after Steve Asmussen won the $1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) with Super Stock. “He’s the best I’ve ever seen – bar none. He is the best horseman that I’ve ever seen. He can go down there and there can be 15 bay horses, none of them with markings or anything, and he can walk by and tell you every horse and what he’s eligible for. He’s got a mind like … he’s the best I’ve ever seen.”

Super Stock was a memorable victory for Asmussen since the horse is co-owned by his father, Keith, was ridden to his maiden score by the trainer’s son, Keith James, and is a product of the family’s famed El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Texas.

Steve Asmussen, of course, continues to make memories, the latest coming in Monday’s fifth race at Oaklawn, when the Hall of Fame trainer saddled favored Bet He’s Ready ($4) to win a $40,000 maiden-claiming sprint under Ricardo Santana Jr. It made Asmussen, 57, the first trainer to reach 10,000 career victories in North America, according to Equibase, racing’s official data gathering organization.

Fittingly, the man known for a 24/7 work ethic had to work to reach the milestone. Asmussen notched his 9,998th and 9,999th career North American victories within a half-hour of each other Saturday at Oaklawn and Sam Houston Race Park, respectively.

Asmussen lost his next 33 starts, misfiring with heavy favorites and unable to script the storybook ending at Oaklawn – Keith James Asmussen riding a horse owned and trained by his father or one trained by his father and owned by the jockey’s younger brother, Erik. It was the aptly named Bet He’s Ready, owned by Texan and longtime Steve Asmussen client Mike McCarty, who finally delivered the milestone victory.

“I think if anything it just makes it that much more of a significant accomplishment, proving how hard it can be,” Asmussen said. “We obviously had several horses that I did not think could lose and obviously they did. Obviously, they’re so sure of the outcome, they’ll let you bet on it. That’s how horse racing is.”

This weekend, Asmussen has eight runners Friday, 10 runners on Saturday and four on Sunday. Among his horses entered Saturday are Grand Love in the $300,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) and Gun Pilot, Powerful and Red Route One in the $1 million Rebel Stakes (G2). He will be seeking his fifth Rebel victory following Snuck In (2000), Wayward Passage (2002), Curlin (2007) and Long Range Toddy (2019).

A former jockey, Asmussen turned to training in the mid-1980s after he became too heavy to ride. Asmussen’s first career winner as a trainer (Victory’s Halo) was July 19, 1986, at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, according to Equibase. The purse was just $2,600.

“I think I was 1 for 15, with like $2,200, $2,300 in earnings in 1986 as a trainer,” Asmussen said. “She won in the summer. And what was it, seven months before my second win? Rock Finder, I think, was my second winner ever. She was a filly that my dad ended up with and I think she gave us, probably, five, six different Texas-bred stakes winners out of that family. You think of how far so many things go back in horse racing.”

After a pedestrian start, Asmussen’s training career began to soar in the mid-1990s, and his numbers have become staggering. He credits his first nationally prominent runner, Valid Expectations, a two-time stakes winner in 1996 at Oaklawn, for opening the doors to better stock. Asmussen, already managing a vast stable, was North America’s winningest trainer for the first time in 2002 with 407 victories. He won a North American-record 555 races in 2004, then broke his record in 2008 (621) and again in 2009 (650).

Boosted by two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, Asmussen led North America in purse earnings for the first time in 2008 ($24,223,187). Curlin represented Asmussen’s first Triple Crown victory in the 2007 Preakness. Asmussen repeated as North America’s purse earnings leader in 2009 ($21,884,695) when he guided the filly, Rachel Alexandra, to a Preakness victory and Horse of the Year honors. Asmussen was honored with an Eclipse Award as the country’s outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009 and inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2016.

“He has the combination of being an outstanding horseman who reads his horses about as well as anybody’s that’s ever trained one,” said Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas, a longtime friend of the Asmussen family. “By that I mean he understands what they can do and can’t do. He takes the reality of running them to an artform. If he thinks they’re ($10,000 claimers), they run for ($10,000). You put all of that in a package with a great work ethic, unbelievably strong work ethic – don’t ever think for one second that he’s sleeping in because he’s too competitive. He’s too competitive to sleep in or back up one iota. His worst days are when he runs one or two.”

Asmussen surpassed the late Dale Baird (9,445) to become North America’s all-time winningest trainer Aug. 7, 2021, at Saratoga, according to Equibase. After reaching 10,000, Asmussen now has his sights on South American trainer Juan Suarez Villarroel, who has more than 10,300 career victories. That figure is reportedly a world record.

“Honestly, it’s very hard to keep track of it (victories) like it is over here, like on a daily basis or whatever,” Asmussen said. “I know I’m a long ways behind him.”

Bet He’s Ready represented Asmussen’s 10,002nd career worldwide victory. His North American total reflects victories in the United States and Canada. Asmussen also won two races in 2008 in the United Arab Emirates with Curlin, who captured Oaklawn’s $300,000 Rebel Stakes (G3) and $1 million Arkansas Derby (G2) as a 3-year-old in 2007. Asmussen’s 10,000th career worldwide victory came in Saturday’s first race at Oaklawn with Canada’s Customs.

Asmussen said he had no plans to stop at 10,000 and his final total likely will never be approached by another North American-based trainer. Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, 76, entered Friday with 7,759 career victories to rank third in North American history. Although Hollendorfer is still active, he hasn’t won more than 47 races in a year since 2019. Asmussen, who trains hundreds of horses, already had 35 victories this year through Thursday.

“Actually, for a trainer, he’s young,” said Keith Asmussen, who, along with wife Marilyn, run El Primero Training Center, where many of Steve Asmussen’s best horses have been broken. “He’s good for another 20 years.”

Asmussen entered Friday with 834 career victories at Oaklawn (No. 2 all time). The late Bob Holthus (867) is Oaklawn’s all-time winningest trainer. Asmussen has collected a record 12 Oaklawn training titles (2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2021 and 2021-2022).

Based on Equibase statistics through Thursday, Asmussen had 10,001 victories from 49,215 starts and purse earnings of $405,958,033 in his North American career. Asmussen’s purse earnings rank second in North American history.

In honor of Asmussen's achievement Monday, Oaklawn announced it would donate $10,000 to charity in his name, with $5,000 going to the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and $5,000 to the Arkansas Thoroughbred Retirement and Rehabilitation Fund.

Finish Lines

Lisa Lazarus, CEO of HISA (Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act), is the special guest for Saturday’s “Dawn at Oaklawn.” Oaklawn handicapper/paddock analyst Nancy Holthus will interview Lazarus at 8 a.m. (Central) on the south grandstand apron. The free program includes barn tours at 7:30 a.m., 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. … Trainer Dan Peitz said he’s using Sunday’s eighth race, a $104,000 allowance sprint for Arkansas-breds, as King Peanut’s prep for the $150,000 Rainbow Stakes April 8 at Oaklawn. The Rainbow is for 3-year-old Arkansas-breds at 6 furlongs. … “Oaklawn Raceday,” featuring David Longinotti, director of Oaklawn Anywhere, and Equibase representative Jeff Taylor, can be heard Saturdays 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m. (Central) during the 2022-2023 meeting on Little Rock, Ark., radio station KABZ-FM 103.7 and www.1037thebuzz.com. Two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is this week’s special guest.