Appreciating a horse racing icon

By Ron Flatter  ( 


Shelf life for the written word is fickle. The ancient petroglyphs on the walls of caves, the cuneiforms on the Rosetta Stone, the scrolls in a jar near the Dead Sea. This story will not be confused with those.


The challenge of writing this week comes from Steve Asmussen. The Hall of Famer is on the verge of becoming the winningest thoroughbred trainer in North American history. At least he was early in the week. There was a chance he would pass the late Dale Baird’s 9,445 by the time eyeballs were laid on this story. It still had yet to happen as a laptop keyboard was absorbing command strokes to write these words Tuesday.


Another challenge. How would bettors be served by a story about Asmussen’s quest? Presuming he was still sitting on something shy of 9,446, would there be any point in looking at the races that could inch him past the record?


Then I found something extremely useful on Twitter. Yes, such things occasionally exist, especially from the account of Brisnet’s Ed DeRosa (@EJXD2). He took a deep dive into the digital lab to come up with seven tweets analyzing specifics of Asmussen’s first 9,442 victories. They included:


— Claiming races, maiden races and maiden-claiming races have accounted for 64% of Asmussen’s victories. That knocks back the idea that his records have been built exclusively with top-level horses like Curlin, Gun Runner, Rachel Alexandra and Midnight Bisou.


— A big percentage of Asmussen’s winners have been forwardly placed. DeRosa found 41% had been first or second at the first call. If fifth or worse means deep closers, they have accounted for only 10% of those winners.


— Ricardo Santana Jr. has been Asmussen’s most prolific jockey. His 797 wins and $57 million in purse money are tops among the 544 riders who have worked for Asmussen. That means nearly half of Santana’s wins and 61% of his purse dollars have come from that partnership.


— With 210 first-place finishers, Tapit is the sire that has put Asmussen in the winner’s circle most often. The least likely sire has been Irish River, whose offspring are 0-for-27.


— As Lasix is being phased out of the sport, 4.6% of Asmussen’s winners have gone without Lasix and even phenylbutazone (bute) on race day.


— An Asmussen-Asmussen exacta has cashed 295 times, and he has accounted for all the horses in 11 trifectas. His only all-Asmussen superfecta came 13 years ago at Lone Star Park in his native Texas, where his 2-year-old colts swept the TTA Sales Futurity. The track near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport has been the site of 1,466 of his wins, more than any other.


— What are the odds that Asmussen could break the record or lose it through disqualification? About 400-1. Of his first 45,896 starts, he had 59 winners promoted by stewards and 53 first-place finishers demoted.


— Finally, what might be the most important optic for bettors. Some 2,015 of the 9,442 winners, 21%, have had post-time odds of even money or shorter. When his starters carry odds of 1-20 with the potential to return only $2.10 for a $2 win bet, Asmussen is 11-for-15.


Not to be shut out by DeRosa, there is something he did not mine from his digital dig. A case can be made that Asmussen is the Cy Young of trainers, as he is not only about to become the winningest trainer in North America, but he is already the losingest.


Equibase statistics reveal Asmussen has had a healthy win rate of 21%. That ranks 15th among the 50 winningest trainers. But because all his starts are far and away the most in racing history, so are his 36,454 losses. That is 2,459 more than any other North American trainer has had entries.


Still, 51% of Asmussen’s horses finish in the money, ranking him 12th among the 50 trainers with the most victories. His 23,628 top-threes are easily the most on the Equibase list covering the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico. He is flat-out money in the bank for show players, although that is more about bridge jumping than house building.


Since he averages 1.49 wins a day and one from every five starts, Asmussen is rarely shut out on a given day. Somehow he had a 20-race winless streak that ended last week, and he went 0-for-3 Monday. One went off at 7-2 and finished fourth, another at 7-1 that wound up fifth, then finally a 5-2 shot that was a distant second. The silly underlays had not oozed into the pari-mutuels. Yet.


Souvenir hunters might want to hold an uncashed ticket on Asmussen’s record breaker. If it were to happen at Saratoga, where he has three of his next four entries this week, more eyeballs and dollars will certainly be pointed at those races. That is just because it is Saratoga, where an average of $2.2 million was bet on each race during opening week.


The attention being paid to Asmussen’s chase is not what it was in 1999, when Laffit Pincay Jr. was about to break Bill Shoemaker’s record of 8,833 victorious rides. His son, broadcaster Laffit Pincay III, said last week that it was such a big deal that ESPN gave it prominence on “SportsCenter.”


Because racing does not hold the public’s attention the way it did a generation ago, Asmussen’s overtaking of Baird may not get above a bottom-of-the-screen mention on the Worldwide Leader. Racing websites will be all over it, but it is not a play for the mainstream media.


Perhaps that will benefit bettors hoping to sneak in and get a little something-something out of No. 9,446. If nothing else, though, the record should stand as a testament to the prolific excellence Asmussen has sustained from the time he was emerging from the shadow of his parents, jockey Keith and trainer Marilyn, to the handing down of horse sense to his three children, including son, University of Texas student and sometimes-jockey Keith.


So bow to the record on its merits. If there is money to be made on Asmussen’s chase, all the better.


In addition to this weekly report, Ron Flatter’s racing column is available every Friday at The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is also available every Friday morning at The next episode will be focused on this weekend’s Whitney Stakes at Saratoga. Trainer Kenny McPeek talks about sending his champion filly Swiss Skydiver against male rivals. Tim Wilkin of the Albany (N.Y.) Times Union previews the Saturday card. Rampart Casino sportsbook director Duane Colucci handicaps weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available for free subscription at iHeart, Apple, Google, Spotify and Stitcher. It is sponsored by 1/ST BET.


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