11/21/2004 12:00AM

Asmussen breaks Van Berg's record

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Delta Downs
Coronado Rose (inside) gets past True Tails late to win the Delta Belle at Delta Downs Saturday night to give trainer Steve Asmussen a record-breaking 497th win in 2004.

HOUSTON - Steve Asmussen broke Jack Van Berg's 28-year-old record for North American trainer wins in a year on Saturday night when Coronado Rose won the $50,000 at Delta Downs in Vinton, La., by a neck, giving Asmussen his 497th win in 2004.

Asmussen watched the race from Sam Houston Race Park.

Van Berg set the record of 496 wins in 1976 with 2,362 starters. Asmussen had 2,043 starters through Saturday. Coronado Rose was his second to last runner for the day. About a half-hour later, Asmussen watched his final starter, Timber, run third in the 11th race at Sam Houston.

"That made the [neck] at Delta extremely significant," said Asmussen, 39.

Asmussen started a career-high 30 horses on Saturday, and won five races. The number of starters was up over his typical 15 to 20 starters on a Saturday because he had 13 horses in races at Sam Houston, which offered nine stakes during its annual Texas Champions Day. In the track's third race Asmussen tied the Van Berg record when he saddled Expect Will to capture the $50,000 Groovy.

Asmussen also won a race at Aqueduct, Churchill Downs and Hawthorne on Saturday. He had horses racing all day, from about lunchtime to 10:48 p.m. Central. The record was set at 10:15 p.m. Central.

"Right off, three of the first four won," he said. "There was a horrible lull in the middle, at least six or seven got beat that I can't believe got beat, and then the little filly comes through in the stake at Delta.

"This is extremely significant to me," he added. "It's an outstanding accomplishment. They write my name down for this, but make no mistake, I'm a very small part of this."

Asmussen credited each of his assistants for their work in helping him manage his far-flung operation of some 180 horses, and he also expressed his appreciation for the opportunities given to him by his roster of owners.

But to his credit, Asmussen's drive was a huge part of the accomplishment, especially considering there are almost six more weeks of racing left in 2004. As for taking a breather with the record now in the books, Asmussen instead began talking about the leading contenders he had in stakes on Sunday. He also talked about what he would like to accomplish in the future.

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

Asmussen began entertaining the idea of setting a record for trainer wins after his bang-up year in 2002, when he edged Scott Lake for leading trainer by wins in North America.

"I thought, 'What's the most anybody's ever won in a year,'" he said, "and that's when I became aware of it and thought 'We can do that.'"

Asmussen won 452 races last year to finish second to Lake, and this year, the horses he claimed for himself helped push him over the top with regard to surpassing Van Berg. Asmussen, who is more than 50 wins ahead of Lake in the standings this year, has 40 to 45 of his own horses in training. However, in the coming year he plans to sell some of the lesser-quality individuals.

Coronado Rose ($5.60) races for Oceanfront Property and Keith Asmussen, Steve's father. Brian Hernandez guided the filly up the rail to edge favorite True Tails in the Delta Belle, which was run in the mud. Asmussen pointed out that Hernandez's son, Brian Hernandez Jr., was aboard Coronado Rose when she won her maiden at Keeneland.

As for much of the stretch run of the race that put Asmussen in the history books, he did not see it live despite being peeled to his television monitor for the simulcast. "It went black and then it came back on and she was galloping out," he said. Asmussen knew the results were favorable, however, because the camera was on Coronado Rose, and because he received an immediate call from an assistant in Louisiana.

Delta flashed "Congratulations, Steve" across the screen after Coronado Rose's victory, and at Sam Houston the trainer was honored in the winner's circle after the last race with a large sign noting his win total. Asmussen said the whole experience of the record run has been one he will never forget.

"This has been important for me from a long way out," he said. "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."