Updated on 03/28/2013 7:42PM

Asmussen passes Van Berg to become second-winningest trainer

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Barbara D. Livingston
At age 47, Steve Asmussen is the second-winningest trainer of all time.

Steve Asmussen became North America’s second all-time winningest trainer on Thursday, when he picked up No. 6,418 with Jake Jourdan in the fourth race at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. The feat came just minutes after Asmussen tied Jack Van Berg on the all-time list by winning the third race at Oaklawn Park. Asmussen now trails only the late Dale Baird, who leads all trainers with 9,445 wins.

Asmussen, 47, said reaching second on the all-time win list is a team accomplishment that he shares with a number of people, including longtime assistants Scott Blasi, Darren Fleming, Toby Sheets, and Pablo Ocampo. They help him oversee the divisions of his stable that he currently has in Arkansas, Louisiana, New York, and Texas.

“It is something my family, Scott, Darren, Toby, Pablo, as well as myself and the rest of the staff, has accomplished together,” Asmussen said. “There’s so many people.”

Asmussen trails Baird by 3,027 wins. Reaching that summit is not something he said he will dwell on. Instead, Asmussen prefers to race in the moment. His goal is to win the next race in which he has a horse entered.  

“You feel as anxious to win the next one as you do any of the previous ones,” he said. “You don’t plateau. It never levels off. You’ve got to keep digging.” 

Asmussen moved into a tie with Van Berg early Thursday afternoon, when Cabe rallied from off the pace to win the third at Oaklawn.

“When you think about it, if nothing else it proves we’ve been doing it a while,” Asmussen said. “We’re lifers.”

Asmussen first met Van Berg in the late 1980s. Asmussen said he remembers Van Berg, who is now based in Southern California, having divisions of horses at Louisiana Downs and Remington Park, where the then 20-something Asmussen was primarily racing.

“When I first saw him, I viewed him like an icon that I can only compare to John Wayne,” Asmussen said.

Asmussen in 2004 surpassed Van Berg’s longstanding record for trainer wins in a calendar year. He won 555 races that season to break Van Berg’s mark of 496 that had stood since 1976. Asmussen would go on to break his own record in 2008, with 622 wins, and did so again in 2009, with 650 wins. Overall, Asmussen has led North American trainers in wins eight times, dating back to 2002. Asmussen twice has led all North American trainers in earnings, in 2008 and 2009.

Asmussen’s first Thoroughbred win came at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, on July 19, 1986. He has since had more than 30,400 starters, which have earned more than $202 million. His best known runners are Curlin, the Horse of the Year in both 2007 and 2008, and Rachel Alexandra, the Horse of the Year in 2009. Asmussen is a two-time Eclipse Award winner as outstanding trainer (2008 and 2009).

But at the heart of those stats is his family, which includes his wife, Julie, and their three sons. Asmussen’s father, Keith Asmussen, is a retired jockey, and his mother, Marilyn, is a trainer. Asmussen’s older brother, Cash Asmussen, was the Eclipse Award winning apprentice of 1979 and a champion jockey in France. He now is a trainer based in Texas.

Asmussen was born in South Dakota but moved to Laredo, Texas, when he was 2. When he was in junior high, his parents established an internationally known training center that  has turned out a number of Grade 1 winners. Asmussen’s first ever win as a trainer came with a Quarter Horse named Ours Alone, on Aug. 19, 1984.

“I remember hauling him from Ruidoso to Manor Downs,” said Asmussen.

Ours Alone was ridden that day by Asmussen’s father, Keith.

Top all-time trainers by wins
1. Dale Baird, 9,445
2. Steve Asmussen, 6,418
3. Jack Van Berg, 6,417
4. King Leatherbury, 6,373
5. Jerry Hollendorfer, 6,368
Through March 28, 2013