Mar 8, 2023

Winning 10,000 races required early lessons in work ethic.

Article By: Hal Lundgren

Winning 10,000 races required early lessons in work ethic.


Steve Asmussen got them free.


His parents, Keith and Marilyn, have operated Laredo's Asmussen Horse Center for six decades. They taught their son that hard work does more than start a day. It must stick around for a career.


"I've copied what they did and how they did it," Asmussen said. "They understood what it took to be successful."


If his parents ever took a short cut, Asmussen never noticed.


On a warm afternoon in a Sam Houston Race Park barn's storage space, Asmussen was well into a ritual he requires of himself. He didn't seem to notice the room had no air conditioner. He was too busy compiling a written report on his horses at a different track.


Phone pressed to his left ear, writing on a legal pad, he logged in his daily update on each horse. The caller, one of Asmussen's assistant trainers, might have been phoning from Kentucky, Arkansas or Louisiana.


"We do that every day," he said. Such diligence shows some of what it takes to be racing's first 10,000-win trainer.


"Right now, we have about 250 head running at six tracks. In the summer, we might be up to eight tracks. We'll still do a daily report on each horse."


Asmussen treats those notes as vital because, to him, they are.

And he records them with the determination of a toddler tackling his first ice-cream cone.


A few moments with Asmussen hint that he's immune to boredom -- even at 57, after more than three successful decades and those amazing 10,000 wins.


"I not only love racing," he said. "I love all levels and every aspect of it.

I prefer doing this to anything else."


Winning, he said, has been a team effort with owners, jockeys and his team of assistant trainers. His SHRP assistant, Pablo Ocampo, has been with Asmussen since 1989.


He's especially grateful to owners, like the Ackerley and Heiligbrodt families, for trusting his skills in SHRP's early days.


Asmussen seldom needs a break from routine. When he does, he might sneak a video glimpse of former champions: Curlin; Rachel Alexandra; Gun Runner.


Those three runners won 36 of 54 starts. They also gave Asmussen three consecutive Horse of the Year winners -- Curlin in 2007 and 2008, then Rachel Alexandra in 2009. Gun Runner won the award in 2017 with 99.2 percent of the vote.


His SHRP business concluded, Asmussen was off to the airport in his rental car, soon to check on his stock at New Orleans' Fair Grounds.

Before leaving, he was asked about a word that seldom sneaks into his conversations. Vacation.


"We've taken family vacations," he confessed.


"I enjoy them," he said. "Really do love them. Just as long as they're not too long. There's always work waiting for me."


His next big work day could be March 25, SHRP's Texas Champions Day. There'll be seven, $100,000 stakes races. Asmussen horses could have a say in all of them.