Year Inducted: 2012
The sports world has known many a dynasty since World War II, all in team sports, both in the collegiate and professional ranks. In the world of modern Thoroughbred horse racing, a dynasty has been created over the past 30 years by trainer Steve Asmussen. An accomplishment made possible by using a team mentality, he as the coach, with a staff of many assistants and a lineup of top-level players (horses).
The sport and business of racing is truly in the blood of Steve Asmussen, hailing from a highly recognizable racing family based in south Texas. Both parents, Keith and Marilyn, are trainers and operate the El Primero Training Center in Laredo. Functioning outside of the hustle and bustle of what would be considered any mainstream population center; many of the top racehorses in recent history were developed at El Primero.
Steve Asmussen learned the horse business from the ground up, working for his family with the less glamorous occupations of mucking stalls, hot-walking and grooming. At age 16, Asmussen began the life of a jockey, following the steps of his father and his Eclipse Award-winning brother Cash. After a few years, Steve outgrew his stay in the saddle and turned to training the horses instead of guiding them at high speeds on the track.
Asmussen started training in 1986, operating mostly in the Midwest. He was stabled at Remington Park during the track’s inaugural season in 1988 when he won eight races, a small amount in comparison to the annual number of wins he would begin logging in just a few years. While growing his stable, Asmussen remained at Remington Park until the 1996 fall season. He won his first-ever training title during the 1991 fall season and accumulated two more local titles before the expansion of business led him elsewhere.
Asmussen quickly made a splash on the national racing scene, first topping a million dollars in stable earnings in 1995, and growing well above that mark every year since. Asmussen traces the beginning of his most recognized success to Valid Expectations, a versatile runner who won the Kentucky Derby Trial in 1996 along with other graded events. The management of his career helped bring the notice of upper echelon owners, along with horses of top pedigree, to Asmussen.
The Asmussen training operation took flight, soaring to heights never reached by any trainer. Asmussen has won 200 or more races every year since the new millennium started. Beginning in 2002, his yearly stable earnings have not been less than $10,000,000, reaching as high as $24.2 million in 2008.
Asmussen oversees stables across North America, at multiple tracks at the same time, throughout the calendar year. More like a giant corporation, Asmussen has a team of assistants, many of which have been with him for parts of three decades. He manages the entire network with constant contact, viewing the races at the track where he personally handles activities or via internet streaming. The method would drive many people mad but is an exercise Asmussen relishes.
In 2004, Asmussen did what many in the racing industry thought could never happen… break the 28-year-old record of 496 wins in a calendar year set by Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg. Asmussen would go on to finish the year with 555 victories, an extreme total that would not last long. When Prophesy won the first race at Remington Park on Sunday, November 23, 2008, it was Asmussen’s 556th win of that year, setting a new standard on his way to 621 wins. That accomplishment would topple in 2009 when Asmussen posted 650 victories, the current record.
While accumulating wins in mass quantities, the goal of high quality triumphs was also achieved, earning Asmussen recognition as a champion trainer. In 2007, Asmussen saddled Curlin to victory in the Preakness Stakes two weeks after he finished third in the Kentucky Derby. He would complete his Triple Crown trifecta with a second-place effort in the Belmont Stakes. That fall, Curlin won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth Park and along with it Horse of the Year honors.
Asmussen and Curlin then traveled to Dubai to win the richest horse race on the planet, the $6,000,000 World Cup in 2008. That score, paired with three other Grade 1 wins in North America, earned Curlin his second consecutive Horse of the Year title and brought Asmussen his initial Eclipse Award as Champion Trainer. Curlin retired with $10.5 million in earnings, at the time the all-time leader.
In 2009, another Asmussen 3-year-old would step up to win the Horse of the Year title. Rachel Alexandra, a filly, was the best of her gender and on many days the best of either gender. She would score an amazing Kentucky Oaks by more than 20 lengths and the Preakness Stakes while defeating males, including Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Wins over males in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the Grade 1 Woodward at Saratoga secured her Champion status and earned Asmussen his second consecutive Eclipse Award as Champion Trainer.
Untapable won five Grade 1 races and the 2014 Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old Filly while trained by Asmussen. Her top scores included the Kentucky Oaks and Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
In 2017, Gun Runner was amazing for Asmussen, losing only in the $10 million Dubai World Cup, finishing second to Arrogate. Gun Runner won five straight Grade 1 events to conclude his career, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita and then the 2018 Pegasus Cup at Gulfstream Park, the world’s richest race at $16 million. Gun Runner was the 2017 Horse of the Year and finished with $15,988,500 in earnings, second all-time only to Arrogate’s $17 million.
Asmussen returned to Remington Park, located three hours north of his Arlington, Texas residence, in the late 2000s. From 2007 thru 2017, Asmussen won 10 of 11 Chuck Taliaferro Awards, recognizing Remington Park’s season-leading trainer. His 2017 title gave him 13 in his Remington Park career, one title more than the track’s all-time leading trainer, Donnie Von Hemel.
Asmussen owns the Remington Park record for seasonal wins with 102 in 2009. No other trainer has won more than 69 in any other season.
The Oklahoma Derby, one of the few races that had eluded Asmussen in his career, finally went his way in 2017 when Untrapped came through traffic down the stretch to win. The event featured three horses (Untrapped, Battle Of Midway, Girvin) who had competed earlier in the year in the Kentucky Derby.
At the start of the 2018 Remington Park Thoroughbred Season, Asmussen’s overall career numbers exceeded 8,100 wins, second all-time, and quickly approaching the record of the late Dale Baird who won 9,445 races. In total earnings, Asmussen has more than $288 million, second only to Todd Pletcher’s $363 million, in a money race expected to continue for years to come.