Hall of Fame horseman Steve Asmussen surpassed South Louisville native Dale Romans as the all-time leading trainer in Churchill Downs history when 4-year-old filly Drop Dead Gorgeous cruised to a 8 1/2-length triumph in Friday’s opener for win No. 738 beneath the historic Twin Spires.
“If anyone knows American horse racing, they know what Churchill Downs means to the sport,” Asmussen stated. “This is a very significant honor. I know the people who have been in this spot before, and been here consistently, and for us to have won the most races is a very proud accomplishment.”
Asmussen, 54, tied Romans for the title on Thursday. Romans was the record-holder since Nov. 12, 2017 when he exceeded Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who was Churchill Downs’ all-time leader for more than 31 years.
Asmussen also won Friday’s second race with 2-year-old colt Hulen for win No. 739.
Born Nov. 18, 1965 in Gettysburg, S.D., Asmussen was meant for horse racing.
His mother Marilyn (aka “Sis”) was a trainer and his father Keith was a jockey and trainer. For more than 50 years, they’ve managed one of the Southwest’s premier equine facilities known for boarding and breaking young horses, the Asmussen Horse Center and El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Texas.
Asmussen’s older brother Cash was the 1979 Eclipse Award-winning apprentice, a champion jockey in France and a winner of more than 3,000 races before his retirement in 2001.
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Asmussen helped his parents around the stable by mucking stalls and walking horses at an early age. He’d later follow in his brother’s footsteps as a jockey and won his first race on April 4, 1982.
He rode in New Mexico, California and New York and won 63 races and $687,224 before he was forced to retire from riding because he grew too big (note: today he stands over 6’0 tall and is about twice his former riding weight).
Asmussen took out his trainer’s license in 1986 and saddled his first winner on July 19, 1986 at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico at age 20.
Asmussen started some 2-year-olds during the 1987 Spring Meet but didn’t win his first race at Churchill Downs until six years later when 3-year-old gelding Snake Eyes, owned by Bradley M. Shannon, secured a $41,420 allowance at 1 1/16 miles on turf under Pat Day on May 16, 1993. He paid $6 to win as the 2-1 favorite.
Asmussen’s first Churchill Downs stakes winner came with a horse that helped put him on the national map.
Valid Expectations was a $596,092-earner, who in 1996, gave Asmussen his first two graded stakes wins: the Grade III Derby Trial on April 27 at Churchill Downs and later the Grade III Sport Page Handicap versus elders at Aqueduct.
Since then, Asmussen has had a Hall of Fame career and was enshrined in 2016.
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