Keith Asmussen. (Coady Photography)
Past The Wire Staff
Coming from behind to duel with pacesetter, Touch Code, piloted by Joe Talamo, Keith J. Asmussen aboard Frank Fletcher’s Papa Rocket won the battle by a neck to get his first win at Oaklawn Park.
Asmussen relaxed Papa Rocket off the pace to make a bid for the lead on the straight passing Sisaway Now under Elvin Gonzalez and Midnight Majesty with Cristian Torres up.
Leveling up with Touch Code, Papa Rocket had just enough reserve to get to the wire first.
Papa Rocket is trained by Hall of Famer and Thoroughbred racing icon D. Wayne Lukas.
Sired by Into Mischief, 3-year-old gelding Papa Rocket is out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Javanese and was bred in Kentucky by Bluewater Sales LLC. Three Diamonds Farm and Glenn Hogan. He was purchased by Frank Fletcher for $300,000 at the Keeneland 2020 September Yearling Sale.
Asmussen, 24, resumed riding this fall after earning a master’s degree in professional accounting earlier this year from the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business.
After his return, Asmussen’s first win was in dramatic fashion Nov. 23, 2022, in a $68,000 Claiming Race at Churchill Downs aboard Tonal Impact, trained by his father. Coming from behind Asmussen and Tonal Impact made a late run at the leaders, Runway Magic with Luis Saez, catching them in the straight to win by a neck.
Sadly, Tonal Impact was claimed by trainer Linda Rice but his dad, Steve picked up a nice gelding in Payne (Paynter). Coincidently, Keith scored second on Payne at Oaklawn on Jan. 6 in a $106,000 AOC.
Asmussen recorded his first career victory July 26, 2020, at Lone Star aboard the the elder Asmussen-trained Inis Gluaire. It was Keith’s 19th career mount. Father and son would strike again roughly two weeks later at Lone Star with future Arkansas Derby winner Super Stock, co-owned by Keith I. Asmussen, Steve’s father, who was also a jockey. The team won the $113,647 Texas Thoroughbred Futurity Stakes for 2-year-olds. It remains the Keith J.’s biggest career victory to date.
Asmussen moved his gear to Oaklawn for the Winter/Spring meet the first week of December 2022 and rode his first mount, Bourbon On Fire, who his father not only trains but owns. The younger Asmussen placed third in that race on December 9.
In 10 starts this year he has hit the board six times. The Asmussen Team is really building momentum at Oaklawn, a meet that has always brought success to the family.
Asmussen has been galloping and working horses for his father since late November at Oaklawn in preparation for the 2022-2023 meeting that begins Friday. The jockey also spent much of early 2020 in Hot Springs getting on horses for his father after in-person classes at Texas were canceled because of COVID-19.
After graduating from Texas, Asmussen began galloping horses at Lone Star and followed his father to Saratoga, then Kentucky, before he resumed riding Oct. 27 at Keeneland. Asmussen has had 14 mounts this year, highlighted by his neck victory aboard Tonal Impact. The jockey’s other six victories came in 2020 (five at Lone Star and one at Remington Park in Oklahoma City).
Asmussen credits eight-time Oaklawn riding champion Ricardo Santana Jr. for helping him grow as a rider, adding he’s “probably about 50 times better” than when he started. Santana has been among Steve Asmussen’s go-to riders for several years.
“Lot better hands,” Keith J. Asmussen said. “I feel like I rate a lot better than I did. Honestly, even on top of that, finishing. But it had just come with a lack of repetitions. First time I rode, I don’t think I’d worked a hundred horses out of the gate yet. It’s what, 20 times past that now?”
All seven of the jockey’s victories have come for his father. No pressure, the jockey said.
“I love the intensity of this barn,” Asmussen said. “It’s the expectations. I don’t think there’s any other way to do it. Everything matters.”
Asmussen said he plans to generate additional business by riding for other trainers, such as Lukas, at Oaklawn, or possibly Sam Houston Race Park in Houston, which opened Jan. 6. In other words, he’s crunching numbers for a living. Just not the way one might expect.
“I’m a jockey now,” Asmussen said. “Full time.”