Steve Asmussen, the winningest Thoroughbred horse trainer in history. (Oaklawn Park Photo)
Ricardo Santana Jr. reaches his own milestone with 700 Oaklawn wins
By Maribeth Kalinich
After being stuck at 9,999 for days through 33 consecutive starters including seven on Sunday, Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen got his 10,000th win Monday at Oaklawn Park with an aptly named Bet He’s Ready and boy was he!
“We were stuck on ‘99’… I guess we just wanted to be a bit dramatic,” Asmussen said on Oaklawn TV in the winner’s circle.
“Steve Asmussen achieved LEGENDARY STATUS today as the first North American trainer in history to reach 10,000 CAREER VICTORIES! We are honored that he did it here at OAKLAWN. In commemoration, we are donating $10,000 in Asmussen’s name: $5000 to the (PDJF) and $5000 to (ATRRF)!” Oaklawn Racing said in a Tweet.
Commenting during the presentation ceremony at Oaklawn Asmussen said: “It’s very hard to put into words just all the support that we continually have got. It was a wonderful thing. I can’t say how blessed I am to have the family here and just the continued support I’ve always had.”
The win came in a $38,000 Maiden Claiming race. It was a huge milestone for Asmussen but also a huge step for Bet He’s Ready as he got his first win in seven starts in the Asmussen barn. And the 4-year-old took it wire-to-wire by 3 3/4 lengths in his first race at Oaklawn Park.
Ridden by Ricardo Santana Jr., the More Than Ready colt out of Forestry mare Separate Forest, was bred by Stonestreet Thoroughbreds and is owned by Michael McCarty.
Santana, Jr., hit a milestone too with that win. He’s now just the 7th rider in Oaklawn Park history to reach 700 wins there.
Two-time Eclipse Award winner Asmussen almost got lucky with Bankit in the Haynesfield Stakes at Aqueduct but settled for second in a stretch duel with Dr Ardito by a head.
Asmussen took second with three others Monday—at Oaklawn Vegas Blue in a $27,000 Claiming race and Impoverished in a $27,000 Maiden Claiming, and at Sam Houston Park Cariama in a $38,000 AOC.
Practically born in the saddle. His father, Keith, is a retired jockey and his mother Marilyn is a trainer who became the first woman to win a major quarter horse race with Vespero in the 1978 Kansas Futurity. They now operate El Primero Training Center and the Asmussen Horse Center, a breeding and sales operation, both in Laredo.
Steve Asmussen’s older brother, Cash Asmussen, currently a trainer himself, is a retired Eclipse Award-winning jockey with championships in Europe as well.
Son Keith James is now a jockey who regally rides for his father and is currently at Oaklawn Park.
Asmussen began riding as a jockey at age sixteen, competing for two years at racetracks in New Mexico, California, and New York until his height and weight ended his riding career.
“No one would believe me if I didn’t have the pictures to prove it,” he said later, having grown to over six feet. “My parents were 5’5″ and 5’2”. I don’t know what happened.” He told Keeneland in an interview in 2017.
Asmussen won his first race as a trainer in 1986 at Ruidoso Downs. In 1987, he won his first stakes race with Scout Command in the Bessemer Stakes at Birmingham Race Course. His first graded stakes win did not come until 1996 when he took the Derby Trial at Churchill Downs with Valid Expectations. In 1999, he recorded his first Grade I win in the Mother Goose with Dreams Gallore.
On March 28, 2013, Asmussen became the second-winningest trainer in North American history with his 6,418th career win behind only Dale Baird, who had 9,445 career wins. Asmussen gave credit to his assistant trainers Scott Blasi, Darren Fleming and Toby Sheets, who allow him to maintain divisions in Arkansas, Louisiana, New York, and Texas.
Asmussen surpassed the late Dale Baird August 7, 2021, to become the leading trainer in North America by wins when Stellar Tap won the fifth race at Saratoga Race Course.