The Asmussen Effect

January 11, 2023

Past The Wire’s Jon Stettin chats with trainer Steve Asmussen at the Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland. (Photo Jim Gazzale, Past The Wire)

Amid a tumultuous year in horse racing trainer Steve Asmussen quietly enjoyed success and endured a few setbacks in 2022

By Ashley Tamulonis

Lost amidst Todd Pletcher’s huge victories with the fillies, Chad Brown’s continued domination on turf, and Bob Baffert’s ongoing legal issues with Churchill Downs, Steve Asmussen quietly, so to speak, put together a wildly successful 2022 that saw him land atop the heap in terms of the number of races won.

While Chad Brown led the way in purse money earned and Michael Trombetta had the highest winning percentage, Asmussen trained the most winners. From 2,155 starts, Asmussen won 382 times. He also brought home 338 second-place finishes. All told, he won at a 17.7% rate with purse monies totaling $28,500,000.

Asmussen first became the leading trainer in North America in 2002 with 407 wins. He has since repeated that feat 11 times. Additionally, he’s been the leading trainer by earnings three times: 2008, 2009, and 2020. In 2004 he set the single season record for wins by a trainer with 555, eclipsing Jack Van Berg’s previous mark of 496 set in 1976. He then surpassed his own mark in 2008 with 622 wins, then broke it again the very next year with 650 wins. He also won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Trainer in 2008 and 2009.

In 2004, Eclipse Award-winning trainer Dale Baird became the first trainer to saddle 9,000 winners, eventually setting the mark at 9,445 before tragically being killed in a car accident that also killed two others. Steve Asmussen became the second-winningest trainer in North America on March 28, 2013, when he notched career victory number 6,418. He hit the 8,000-win milestone on May 5, 2008, with Lookin At Lee, who had finished second in the Kentucky Derby the year before, at Churchill Downs. On August 7, 2021, Asmussen bested Baird’s career total to become North America’s most successful trainer when he sent out Stellar Tap to a debut victory at Saratoga.

Steve Asmussen making history. (Chelsea Durand)

While Asmussen undoubtedly had a stellar year, it did not come without a few hiccups. Epicenter, arguably his most successful trainee this year, raked in the most money for the Hall of Fame trainer, winning $2.81 million from seven starts. The son of Not This Time was about as unlucky as they come. The favorite for the Kentucky Derby, Epicenter was up close to a suicidal pace and ended up losing by just ¾-length when longshot Rich Strike came storming home from the back of the field. Two weeks later in the Preakness, he was just as unfortunate when he was squeezed at the start and trapped on the inside and behind a wall of horses. When he finally found running room, he ran out of time to run down the fresh Early Voting, who had had the perfect outside stalking trip.

From left: Epicenter’s owner Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds holding the Jim Dandy Trophy with Joel Rosario and an unknown gentleman next to Julie and Steve Asmussen and their sons, Keith and Eric. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

Epicenter turned his luck around in the summer, however. He defeated a short field in the Jim Dandy in July, a field in which Early Voting finished fourth and last. As if that was not enough, Epicenter put an emphatic stamp upon his status as the top 3-year-old colt when he dominated the Travers. Left in his wake were Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike and Preakness winner Early Voting, who once again finished last. Unfortunately, Epicenter’s luck ran out in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. What should have been a showdown between him and Flightline ended with Flightline in the winner’s circle and Epicenter injured and retired. 

Asmussen did not fare much better in any of the other Breeders’ Cup races in 2022. His top older filly Clairiere missed the Distaff win by two noses in a thrilling photo finish while her stablemate, 3-year-old Society, finished 7th. Chad Brown’s Goodnight Olive bested Asmussen’s duo of Echo Zulu and Wicked Halo, who finished second and third respectively in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Jackie’s Warrior failed to go out a winner when he ran third in the Sprint. Private Creed missed the Juvenile Turf Sprint trophy by a length when his closing charge came up just short. Gunite was fourth in the Dirt Mile, and Grand Love rounded out his Breeders’ Cup entrants with a 6th place finish in the Juvenile Fillies.

While Asmussen missed the mark in 2022’s spring classics and Championships, his charges still performed admirably in those key races. They also brought home victories in other important races. Jackie’s Warrior won the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) and Churchill Downs (G1). Clairiere won the Ogden Phipps (G1) while fellow fillies Pauline’s Pearl and Society won the La Troienne (G1) and Cotillion (G1) respectively. And of course, Epicenter netted a Classic victory in the Mid-Summer Derby, better known as the Travers (G1). He also sent out Midnight Bourbon to a third-place finish in the Saudi Cup (G1) and a 5th place finish in the Dubai World Cup (G1). Overall, Asmussen won 22 graded stakes in 2022.

Contributing Authors

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley Tamulonis

Ashley has been an avid horse racing fan since she was introduced to the sport through the Joanna Campbell series "Thoroughbred." As a Georgia native...

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