11/22/2004 12:00AM

Asmussen: 500 and still counting

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HOUSTON - The day after Steve Asmussen set a North American record for training victories in a year, he did not even give himself a breather. He instead traveled from Sam Houston Race Park to Remington Park and resumed doing what he does best: Winning races.

Asmussen won three on Sunday, including two stakes, to bring his year-to-date win total to an incredible 500. And just as he tied, then broke, Jack Van Berg's trainer-win record in a pair of stakes races, he achieved the milestone of 500 wins in a stakes, when Smooth Bid captured the $84,000 MEC Mile at Remington.

Van Berg's 28-year-old record for victories officially fell at 10:15 p.m. Central on Saturday night, when Coronado Rose won the $40,000 Delta Belle at Delta Downs in Vinton, La., by a neck. It was win number 497 this year for Asmussen. Van Berg set the record with 496 wins in 1976. He did it with 2,362 starters; Asmussen had 2,043.

Achieving the record was a thrill for the 39-year-old Asmussen, who is already plotting his goals for 2005.

"I hope I win more races with a lot less starters," he said with a chuckle. "I hope I win 600 races, but I'm probably going to have to [win] 40, 45 percent to do it."

Asmussen said he does plan to disperse of some of the lesser-quality horses he owns himself now that the record has been set. He has about 45 of his own horses in training, having claimed some of them to help push his record run along. Asmussen has wanted to break Van Berg's record since he won the national training title for victories in 2002 with 407.

"This means a lot to me," he said. "This has been important to me from a long way out. I can't even say enough about the well-wishers I've had. People have noticed it. You just think you've got your own little quest going on."

On Saturday, he had a career-high 30 horses in races across the country, with his reach extending from Aqueduct in New York, to Sunland Park in New Mexico. His parade of starters began before lunch Texas time, and ended at 10:48 p.m. Central. In all, Asmussen won five races on the day, and achieved the record with his next-to-last starter Saturday. He had tied the record several hours earlier with Expect Will in the $50,000 Groovy at Sam Houston.

In the Delta Belle, record-setter Coronado Rose dug in to edge the favorite, True Tails. Right after the race, Delta flashed "Congratulations, Steve," across its video screen. Later on in the evening, Asmussen was honored at Sam Houston.

"It's an outstanding accomplishment," Asmussen said. "They write my name down for this, but make no mistake, I'm a very small part of this."

Asmussen went on to credit each of his six assistants by name, and expressed appreciation for the support of his owners. Asmussen's ambition, management skills, and attention to detail - combined with a stable of some 180 horses - have him on pace to win 550 races in a calendar year, a number that might never again be approached by a trainer in North America.

Through Sunday, he had won with 500 of 2,055 starters this year for stable earnings of $12,785,391. In his training career, Asmussen, whose first win came at Ruidoso Downs in July 1986, has won 2,660 races from 12,750 starters for stable earnings of $61,921,052.

Despite the gaudy numbers, his career is really just getting started. His future goals are a reminder of that.

Noting that Van Berg won the Kentucky Derby, with Alysheba, 11 years after he set the record, Asmussen said, "Hopefully I can do it in less."