9,446 and no sign of stopping: Steve Asmussen is all-time leading US trainer in career wins

Horse Racing Steve Asmussen
Trainer Steve Asmussen celebrates at Saratoga with family and connections, including jockey Ricardo Santana, after breaking the all-time record for career wins. Photo: NYRA/Chelsea Durand (Coglianese)

By Nicholas Godfrey

USA: One of the most significant records on the US racing books was broken at Saratoga on Saturday [August 7] when Steve Asmussen became the all-time winningmost trainer with the 9,446th success of his Hall of Fame career.

With two winners on Friday, the prolific 55-year-old had equalled the mark of the late Dale Baird, who had 9,445 winners to his name when he was killed in a car crash in 2007.

Asmussen clinched the record when two-year-old colt Stellar Tap made a winning debut by 5¼ lengths under Ricardo Santana in the fifth race on the Whitney card at Saratoga, a $100,000 maiden special weight over 7f.

Asmussen cut an emotional figure in the winner’s circle after the race. He said: “To be surrounded by people you love and who love you, and you have a common goal, it’s impossible to put into words what horse racing means to me and my whole family and to all the employees. They’re family and they know so and are treated as such.”

Asmussen’s figure includes races only in the US and Canada; he also saddled Curlin to win twice in Dubai in 2008 and stands second on the world list. According to the Pagina de Turf website, the world leader is Peruvian-based Juan Suarez Villarroel with 9,882.

Trainers: All-time career victories in North America
  1. Steve Asmussen 9,446
  2. Dale Baird 9,445
  3. Jerry Hollendorfer 7,695
  4. Jack van Berg 6,523
  5. King Leatherbury 6,507
  6. Scott Lake 6,194
  7. Todd Pletcher 5,157
  8. Bill Mott 5,130
  9. D Wayne Lukas 4,853
  10. Richard Hazelton 4,745

Statistics from Equibase

Baird, Asmussen’s predecessor as US leader, was largely based at Mountaineer in West Virginia and never trained a graded-stakes winner. 

Asmussen, in marked contrast, is successful at all levels, numbering two Breeders’ Cup Classic victories, three Triple Crown races and Curlin’s Dubai World Cup among a multitude of top-level winners.

Horses trained by Asmussen have won the Horse of the Year award on four occasions: Curlin (2007, 2008), Rachel Alexandra (2009) and Gun Runner (2017).

Not forgotten: David Gall, fifth on the all-time jockeys’ list in North America

Following in the footsteps of his older brother Cash, Texas-based Asmussen started out as a jockey with 63 winners before turning to training. He recorded his first career success aged 20 in July 1986 with the maiden Victory’s Halo at Ruidoso Downs; his first G1 winner was Dreams Gallore in the 1999 Mother Goose at Belmont. 

Asmussen has won two Eclipse Awards as champion trainer and, with multiple barns at various tracks across the country, led the way in races won ten times; he is well ahead again in 2021 with 317 victories so far.

In 2004, he set a single-season record for wins by a trainer with 555, surpassing the 496 achieved by Jack van Berg in 1976. He broke that record again in 2008 with 622 wins, then broke it again in 2009 with his personal-best score of a scarcely conceivable 650.

Asmussen was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016. According to Equibase, he has now been responsible for more than 45,900 starters, accruing prize-money in excess of $361 million altogether.

Stellar Tap, Asmussen’s go-ahead winner in a 7f maiden special weight, tracked the early speed before assuming the lead after a quarter-mile and scoring easily for owners L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds. 

“How fitting to do this with a two-year-old owned by the Winchells and who came through Mom and Dad’s farm in Laredo and on Whitney Day,” said Asmussen, whose parents Keith and Marilyn run the El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Texas.

“I was definitely blessed,” the trainer went on. “I’m very proud of where I came from and don’t ever want to forget it. It makes you who you are. I love to be able to share this with my parents.”

Winning rider Santana was singing the trainer’s praises. “I’m very grateful to be the one who helped him break the record,” he said. 

“He’s a part of the family. He took me in since I was a little kid and he’s really shown me a lot of support throughout my career.”

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