Steve Asmussen

Top Kentucky Derby Trainers – Steve Asmussen

Steve Asmussen has trained two of the most accomplished American thoroughbreds in recent history in Curlin and Rachel Alexandra, but Asmussen is still looking for his first winner in the Run for the Roses. He has one of the early Kentucky Derby odds-on favorites in Tapiture.

Asmussen was born on November 18, 1965, in Gettysburg, South Dakota, into a horse racing family as his parents, Keith and Marilyn, breed, own and train horses. The family operates Asmussen Horse Center, a breeding and sales operation, and El Primero Training Center, both in Laredo, Texas. Asmussen’s older brother Cash, still a trainer in Texas, won the 1979 Eclipse Award for top apprentice and was a champion jockey in Europe.

Steve Asmussen got his jockey’s license at age 16 and rode for three years in California, New Mexico and New York. He couldn’t maintain the small size needed to stay a jockey and thus began training horses in New Mexico in 1986 and won his first thoroughbred stakes race in 1987, the Bessemer Stakes with Scout Command at Birmingham Race Course. Asmussen’s first graded stakes win in the Grade 3 Derby Trial in 1996 with Valid Expectations. His first Grade 1 stakes winner was Dreams Galore in the 1999 Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont.

Asmussen took control of training Curlin after he was sold following his seven-furlong maiden race victory in February 2007. Curlin was purchased by a racing partnership headed by majority shareholder Jess Jackson of Stonestreet Farm, who turned Curlin over to Asmussen. It would prove a wise decision. Curlin won the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby in the spring of 2007 and was the Kentucky Derby betting favorite but finished third in the race won by Street Sense. Curlin would rebound with a victory in the Preakness Stakes and a third-place finish in the Belmont. The horse would win several more grade 1 stakes races, including the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Curlin was Horse of the Year in 2007 and ’08.

The Eclipse Award for the nation’s top trainer went to Asmussen in ’08 largely due to Curlin and again in 2009 when his filly Rachel Alexandra, also owned by Jackson, was the Horse of the Year. She made history by becoming the first filly since 1924 to win the Preakness Stakes. She had eight total wins in 2009, including five in grade 1 races. Three of those five grade 1 wins were over males: Rachel Alexandra was the first female of any age to win the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga. Asmussen-trained horses won 650 races in ’09, a single-year record.

The best Asmussen has fared in the Run for the Roses was second place with Nehro in 2011. He has one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders in Tapiture after that colt impressively won the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn Park in February of this year at 1 1/16 miles. Tapiture easily outkicked even-money favorite Strong Mandate (another early favorite for those who bet on the Kentucky Derby) down the stretch for a 4 1/4-length win.  Asmussen called it “a big step forward” for the horse. Tapiture also closed his 2-year-old campaign with a win in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes in November 2013 at Churchill Downs.