05/06/2017 7:28PM

Asmussen, still chasing elusive Derby win, proud of Lookin At Lee's effort

Kelsey Danner
Lookin At Lee, a 33-1 longshot, finishes second to the favored Always Dreaming in the Kentucky Derby.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – For a guy still chasing the dream of winning his first Kentucky Derby, a dream deferred for at least another year, trainer Steve Asmussen seemed quite jubilant following Lookin At Lee’s second-place finish behind Always Dreaming in the Derby on Saturday.

“I’m so very proud of Lee,” said an enthused Asmussen, who had a giant smile on his face despite the Kentucky Derby remaining the only really significant item missing on his Hall of Fame résumé. “That’s just who he is. He just did what he always does, the way he performed out there today.

“He’s the first horse in 20 years to run in the top three in the Derby from the 1 hole. All the variables you worry about in a horse going in here, I don’t worry about with Lee. He’s shown up every time. He earns your respect by overcoming, not making excuses.”   

Asmussen, 51, also exuded praise for jockey Corey Lanerie, who despite having won a dozen riding titles at Churchill Downs is also seeking his first Derby victory. Lanerie gave Lookin At Lee, who was still 16th with a half-mile left in the race, a picture-perfect, ground-saving, Calvin Borel-like Derby ride, barely leaving the fence at any point.       

 “I have to give a lot of credit to Corey,” said Asmussen. “He and Lee have a lot of the same qualities. They just keep coming. Corey gave him a great shot. And when he cut the corner there at the head of the stretch, for a moment you thought you had a real shot. But the winner really stayed on well. In fact, I thought both horses really finished up well under these conditions.”

Lookin At Lee was one of three horses Asmussen saddled in this year’s Derby. He also sent out Hence and Untrapped to finish 11th and 12th, running his Derby record to 0 for 18. His best previous finishes came with Nehro, who finished second in 2011; Curlin, third in 2007; and Gun Runner, third in 2016.

“Ricardo [Santana] put Untrapped in a great spot, and then the race kind of got away from him in the middle. You can see where he came off the bridle,” said Asmussen. “And I didn’t think Hence really got into the slop. He never leveled off with all that much slop coming back. It wasn’t that he wasn’t handling it under his feet, it was the part hitting him in the head that was bothering him.” 

As for his elusive Derby dream, Asmussen is resolute in his passion to carry on toward that goal.  

“I’d love to win the Kentucky Derby,” he said. “It’s always been that way. It’s always been the greatest race for me. Winning it would be the ultimate. A lot of times, if things had gone differently, you could have had a different outcome. I’d love to have another chance with a Curlin, a Gun Runner, or a Creator. And that makes you realize what a fleeting chance it is.

“We’re 0 for 18 and trying. We’re good at getting here; we’ll figure out how to win it. I just love the opportunity. And if it’s meant to happen, it will.”