As Steve Asmussen approaches the record for all-time wins by a trainer, a case could be made that he’s also among the all-time top handicappers.
Asmussen has had a busy 35-year career. He studies the upcoming races at each of the many tracks where he stables horses, and he selects the races for all of his horses.
Asmussen begins today with 9,435 wins, trailing leader Dale Baird by 10 wins. This past weekend, Asmussen had nine horses entered at Saratoga and won once. Topping Baird’s record is inevitable for the South Dakota native — and now it’s just a matter of by how much he will exceed Baird’s mark once he calls it a career. Baird died in 2007.
Asmussen’s Outstanding Win Percentage
Asmussen has come this far through volume — and talented runners. He has had 45,863 horses enter races (Baird’s total is unknown) and has a 21% lifetime win percentage. He won his first race as a trainer in 1986 at Ruidoso Downs. His horses have finished in the money at a 51% clip. Since 1997, Asmussen’s win percentage each year has ranged from 17% to 24%.
In 2002, Asmussen truly got on the map when he was the leading North American trainer by number of wins with 407, a title he has since repeated eight times. In 2004, he set a single-season record for wins by a trainer with 555, surpassing the previous standard of 496 held since 1976 by Jack Van Berg. Asmussen broke that record in 2008 with 622 wins, then broke it again in 2009 with 650.
Asmussen has won three Triple Crown races but not the Kentucky Derby. He won the Preakness 2007 (Curlin) and 2009 (Rachel Alexandra) and the Belmont Stakes in 2016 (Creator). He has six wins at the Breeders Cup, including the BC Classic in 2007 (Curlin) and 2017 (Gun Runner).
Current Leader Was a Small-Time Trainer
Baird, meanwhile, earned most of his wins in small-purse races in West Virginia. His career earnings of $35.3 million are less than one-tenth of Asmussen’s ($360,660,791).
Baird made his training debut in 1961 at Ellis Park Racecourse in Henderson, Ky., and won his first race with a horse named New York. Soon thereafter, he established himself at Waterford Park (now Mountaineer Racetrack) in Chester, W.Va., where he won every meet training title for 20 consecutive years between 1981 and 2000.
Baird trained horses for 46 years, and he owned nearly all of the horses that he trained. He was the nation’s leading trainer, by wins 15 times between 1971 and 1999, and the leading owner 17 times.
What’s the Betting Angle?
The Triple Clowns host a regular YouTube channel program that discusses horse racing. Among them is Sara Marie, who said, “The only betting angle I could really see is that people will bet for a history-making moment.
“I do feel like situations like this can affect the odds,” she continued. “Some cappers are going to want to root for him regardless of the horse. Then again, a lot of cappers like to look at the jockey/trainer percent angle anyways. For example, jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. and Asmussen have an 89 percent rating per TimeformUS; bettors are going to look twice at that. It is an angle I have used before. When he sets the wins record, it will be a much-celebrated event in this industry, coming at a time when we need a happy story in horse racing.”
Bettors often place $2 win bets on historic horses, such as attempts at capturing the Triple Crown, and save those tickets for nostalgia purposes.
Longtime regular horse player Mike Koblenz of Arlington, Va., said, “I don’t have a betting angle on Asmussen setting the record, although I’ve seen situations where jockeys or trainers are right on the brink of a milestone win and they hit a slump a few wins short, and the watch to their 2,000th or 3,000th win or whatever drags on. I don’t expect that to happen to Asmussen, though. He has so many horses running at different tracks and different levels that, as a whole, he never seems to hit a slump.”
At Only 55, There’s Plenty More Ahead for Asmussen
Online horse handicapper Andrew Champagne said he wished there was more of a story about Asmussen breaking the record from a handicapping perspective.
“A lot of trainers will have strings of horses at various tracks,” Champagne said. “The New York trainers will often keep some of their lesser horses at Monmouth and run them there. Asmussen’s quantity of runners across multiple circuits, though, is something that isn’t seen often.”
Still-active trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, age 75, ranks third all-time in wins with 7,692.
“[Asmussen] wins a lot because he runs a lot of horses, spots them well and claims horses that can be run at or above those levels,” Champagne said. “It’s why he’s close to Baird’s record and why he will likely wind up with an absurd number of wins. He’s only 55 and likely has plenty of time left at or near the top of the sport.”