05/01/2017 12:50PM

Asmussen has one box left to check on his career résumé

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Steve Asmussen has one goal left to make his career complete: winning the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Steve Asmussen checked off a couple more boxes last year when he won the Belmont Stakes with Creator and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame.

They were the latest among the major feats and honors accumulated by Asmussen in 30-plus years as a Thoroughbred trainer. Now 51, he has pretty much done it all – except for one little something.

“Oh, I’m well aware of what’s missing,” Asmussen said with a big laugh in a recent interview. “I’ve got one major vacancy on my résumé.”

It’s the one thing he has most coveted since he was a young boy growing up around horses in Laredo, Texas. He’d absolutely love to win the Kentucky Derby.

“It’s always been that way, from the first one I remember watching on TV [Secretariat, 1973],” he said. “The first one I saw in person [Winning Colors, 1988]. The first one I ran a horse in [Fifty Stars, ninth in 2001]. It’s always been the greatest race for me.”

Asmussen will have three starters in the 143rd Kentucky Derby on Saturday at Churchill Downs, and he is optimistic about plugging the hole. He will run Hence, with Florent Geroux to ride for Calumet Farm; Untrapped, with Ricardo Santana Jr. up for Mike Langford; and Lookin At Lee, with Corey Lanerie aboard for L and N Racing LLC.

Hence, a breakthrough winner of the Sunland Derby in his final prep race, most likely will be the lowest odds of the trio.

“He is fabulous right now,” Asmussen said. “I think he has matured into this spot real well. He’s always had tremendous talent. He’s very physical. I felt like he graduated when he won at Sunland, and I feel really good about how he’s acted since we got back here to Churchill.”

Lookin At Lee, a deep closer who was third in the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park, has the kind of experience that could prove highly valuable, said Asmussen, who ticked through all seven stakes the colt has competed in.

“We’ve all been dying to run him a mile and a quarter,” he said. “With 20 head in the race, with enough pace up front, he’ll just keep coming.”

Untrapped finished sixth in the Arkansas Derby after launching a sustained midrace move, then flattening out.

“He was too aggressive in the middle,” Asmussen said. “He may [have gotten] a little lost at Oaklawn. He just might not [have] liked the track there. That happens with some horses. I do know he’s trained well here. If he doesn’t train like a classic horse, what does?”

A Derby victory from any of the Asmussen horses would qualify as an upset. If it doesn’t happen, his record in the Derby will move to 0 for 18. With 15 previous starters, he already has the most for any trainer in Derby history without a win. His best finishes came with Nehro (second in 2011), Curlin (third in 2007), and Gun Runner (third in 2016).

The good news for Asmussen, of course, is that he is relatively young and figures to get many more chances in future years, given his lengthy roster of deep-pocketed clients. He isn’t necessarily obsessed with the Derby, and he won’t go off the deep end if he never wins it; his family life and phenomenally successful career always bring him back to a happy reality.

But, boy, if he ever does win …

“It would mean so much to me that I wouldn’t even know how much it would mean,” he said. “It’d be the ultimate, that’s for sure.”