10/30/2003 12:00AM

Asmussen a racing ambassador


OZONE PARK, N.Y. - For most of us, the melody of last weekend's eventful 20th Breeders' Cup still lingers. But Cash Asmussen, for some time now, has been focusing on the 21st Breeders' Cup, to be run on Oct. 30, 2004, at Lone Star Park in Grand Prairie, Texas, a suburb of Dallas.

Asmussen, a 41-year-old Texan who went to France in the early 1980's and won five national riding championships, recently returned from a promotional trip to England and France on behalf of Lone Star and its hosting of the Cup. He'll make similar trips next season, for the knowledgeable Lone Star people recognize that he is one of racing's most popular and effective celebrities, with a genuine appreciation of this world-class competition.

"I was at Santa Anita for this year's Cup," Asmussen said the other day from the family ranch in Laredo, Texas. "I thought it was a great day of racing and a great day for racing. The competition was outstanding. The Cup lived up to its billing as the World Thoroughbred Championships, and Santa Anita did an excellent job of making all who attended feel welcome."

Asmussen rode Spinning World, a top-class Niarchos family runner, to a clear-cut victory in the Breeders' Cup Mile in 1997 at Hollywood Park, and he has had several other good mounts in Cup competition. He began his riding career at Southwestern tracks in 1978 and quickly built a reputation for talent and poise that earned him recognition throughout the industry.

In 1982, he accepted an invitation from the powerful Niarchos Stable and trainer Francois Boutin to ride in France. Steve Cauthen enjoyed great success in England at this time, and Asmussen also did much to enhance the reputation of American jockeys.

Asmussen's best horses were Montjeu, winner of the French and Irish derbies of 1999, and Suave Dancer, who won the French Derby and Arc de Triomphe in 1991. Following his Arc victory, Asmussen was the toast of the international racing press when he conducted two news conferences - one in English, and the other in flawless French.

Asmussen, his wife, and three daughters always returned to the ranch in Texas for a three-month visit each winter, when there is no racing in Paris. He retired from the saddle in 1999 and since then has lived at the ranch, where he joins his mother Marilyn, father Keith, and brother Steve in one of the biggest horse operations in the country. His father has 100 horses in training, and Cash has about 60 head, with some to be sold at public auction but many designated for the Asmussen racing stable, with Steve as trainer.

The ranch has more than 400 stalls, and the Asmussens have considered applying for a license as a Class II racetrack. They envision a short race meeting and a simulcast venture when there is no live racing. No Asmussen has ever been seen standing still with nothing to do.