11/23/2008 12:00AM

Asmussen wins No. 555


Trainer Steve Asmussen equaled his record of winning 555 races in a single year when Union Strike captured the 10th and final race on Saturday at Fair Grounds.

Union Strike ($7.20), under Luis Quinonez, sat third during the early going of the race, at about one mile on turf for 2-year-olds. He reeled in the leader with a sixteenth of a mile to go, then drew away. Asmussen was at Fair Grounds on Saturday, and greeted Union Strike in the winner’s circle.

Asmussen’s total is for North American races only, and does not include the two victories by Curlin earlier this year in Dubai. His horses have earned nearly $22 million this year in North America, and nearly $26 million overall.

Asmussen won 555 races in 2004, smashing the previous record of 496 wins set by Jack Van Berg in 1976.

Befitting the scope of his training operation, Asmussen on Saturday had 16 runners entered at seven different racetracks – Aqueduct, Churchill Downs, Fair Grounds, Hawthorne, Remington, Retama, and Woodbine.

Asmussen began the day with 553 victories, then quickly got number 554 when Dr. W ($14.80) won the third race at Aqueduct, a seven-furlong allowance race for New York-breds.

He appeared to have an excellent chance to tie the record prior to Union Strike’s victory. In the 10th race at Churchill Downs, Captain Cherokee, who was favored at 8-5 in his debut, broke slowly before rallying late for second. Minutes later, at Fair Grounds, Asmussen-trained A Day for Dancing, a 9-1 shot, took the lead in deep stretch in the Pontalba Stakes, but she was caught in the final strides by C Karma.

Asmussen still had four more runners entered to run on Saturday night, two at Remington, and two at Retama.

Asmussen, 43, has said that he does not envision keeping the same kind of pace in future years. He said he wants to focus his operation more on quality than quantity, and is desirous of racing at tracks whose purse structures are strongest.

“I think there are some venues where we’re very comfortable with the opportunities, and maybe we’ll do more there, places where the costs give an owner a chance to make money,” Asmussen said. “And there’s other places we might eliminate, places where you lose money even if you win. We’re looking at what races go, what races don’t go, how often they’re written, and what it costs to keep them there.”