It is time to give Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen his due.
For a majority of racing fans and players, Asmussen is an enigma, a man you hate to love and love to hate, especially after PETA went covert on him and caught Scott Blasi unaware while the assistant trainer made imprudent comments on video.
Made several years ago, it was the kind of cloud that still hangs in the air today. The subject is never discussed in polite company, or on racing television, but remains a favorite of backstretch whisperers.
Whatever view one takes, Asmussen deserves accolades. His horses are always well turned out, they hold their form well within a far-flung operation unseen since earlier days when old ball coach Darrell Wayne Lukas showed the world how it’s done.
Only great horsemen win 9,000 races. High vet bills is not the only path to the winners’ circle.
On some days it seems he’s running horses in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New York and a sprinkling of Mid-Atlantic states, all at the same time.
Far-flung only begins to describe an operation that does as well with its claimers as it does with its Horse of the Year champions.
The man he is trying to catch, in what heretofore was the exclusive province of a Joe DiMaggio, a Woody Stephens or the man that stands between him and his goal, Dale Baird, the all-time leader with 9,445 winners whose operations were more provincial and limited in scope.
Last Friday night, Asmussen became the second trainer in Thoroughbred history to saddle 9,000 winners, from over 43,000 starters, doing so with a $7,500 claimer named Troy Ounce at Remington Park in Oklahoma City.
At his current pace, the all-time record may be eclipsed before a trusted Covid vaccine is widely circulated by the end of next year. A member of the Hall of Fame since 2016, Asmussen is on track to saddle 400+ winners for the third straight year, making it 11 times in all.
Asmussen is doing quite well in 2020. While it’s unfortunate that the exceptional Volatile came out of Saratoga’s Grade 1 Vanderbilt with a hairline fraction of the cannon bone and has been retired, he’s rates to have a big 2021 in racing’s glamour division.
Reminiscent of the dominating juvenile campaigns enjoyed by the aforementioned Lukas and acolyte Todd Pletcher, Asmussen’s won with virtually every juvenile he’s saddled this year, Calibrate and Jackie’s Warrior to name just two.
At present, Asmussen has his eyes on the 2020 Triple Crown’s third jewel after Pneumatic, a winner of Monmouth Park’s Pegasus Stakes last month, worked five furlong in 1:00.85 on the Oklahoma training track on Monday in Saratoga.
Yesterday’s move, a blazing drill on that surface, was his fourth workout since the Pegasus. He’ll have another, more of the maintenance variety over the weekend and, if all goes well, Pneumatic ships to Pimlico one week from today.
But until next year’s Triple Crown chase, Asmussen will try to continue to do what he’s done his whole career, saddle winners:
Asmussen, widely quoted, thinks “it would be very significant to be the all-time winningest trainer. Been thinking about that ever since they started keeping track of wins. That’s why you send them out, to win. If it weren’t important, they wouldn’t keep stats.”
Asmussen and Preakness Probabilities
Achieving the loftiest of goals is likely to be easier than his horse being draped in Black-Eyed Susans October 3rd in the 145th Preakness, even if “now horses” have had their share of success in the classic.
As of Monday, the Pimlico press office expects a possible field of nine which likely would swell if Tiz the Law demurs and opts to go straight to the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Currently, the lineup includes Authentic, Art Collector, Thousand Words, Liveyourbeastlife, Pneumatic, Mr. Big News, Dr. Post, Happy Saver and Tiz the Law. Our guess is that Thousand Words, Dr. Post and Tiz the Law are more questionable than probable.
In addition to Pneumatic, three of the four most accomplished breezed over the weekend: For Bob Baffert it was good news-bad news. Thousand Words had no energy we could see, going through the motions in a halfhearted 1:02.40, needed prompting on the gallop-out.
By comparison, his stablemate was ultra-impressive, getting five-eighths in 59.20. The Derby winner launched running, scooted through the turn, and cruised down the lane without being asked, galloping out as strongly as horses run, slowing down only as the half-mile pole approached.
The same but different, Art Collector was just as impressive, going the identical distance in 59.40. He just skipped along with strides silky smooth. Very light on his feet, he was never asked seriously, albeit running on the fence, then galloped out strongly as well.
Not knowing the individual’s morning habits if I rated Thousand Words a C, giving him the benefit of a doubt, Authentic and Art Collector rated an A+.
If Tiz the Law were running, I would have expected him to work this past weekend. The barn apparently is thinking deeply but running silently. My guess is that we’ll hear something by week’s end and if he opts out, expect a full gate for the Preakness.