10/24/2003 12:00AM

Juvenile: With Asmussen, it's in the blood

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ARCADIA, Calif. - The last time the Breeders' Cup was held in Southern California, jockey Cash Asmussen made his Cup debut a memorable one, guiding Spinning World to victory in the $1 million Mile in 1997 at Hollywood Park.

Saturday, when the Breeders' Cup returns to Southern California, Cash's brother Steve gets three chances to make a first impression in the Cup when he sends out a trio of contenders in the event's 20th renewal at Santa Anita.

Asmussen, 37, will have the Juvenile favorite in Cuvee and live longshots in the Distaff (Lady Tak) and Sprint (Posse). Asmussen is already enjoying a sensational season with 355 victories through Oct. 20, including 40 stakes. His stable has earned $9.66 million, third behind only Bobby Frankel and Todd Pletcher. But, Saturday could be the biggest day of his 17-year training career.

"It's been an extremely rewarding year, but the most important part and what would be the pinnacle of it is we have two horses that have enough talent to be champions," Asmussen said. "And I shouldn't eliminate Posse, because the Sprint division is wide open to the say the least, and I think he's definitely been overlooked in the race. If Lady Tak wins the Distaff she's going to be 3-year-old champion. If Cuvee wins his race, he's going to be 2-year-old champion. That's the direction we thought the stable was heading in.''

Since 2000, Asmussen has won more races than any trainer other than Scott Lake. In 2002, Asmussen's 407 victories led all trainers and made him just the third trainer in history to reach the 400-win plateau in a single year, joining Lake and Jack Van Berg. Asmussen is the only trainer to have finished in the top four in wins and earnings each of the last three years and is on his way to doing it again this year.

Asmussen's success comes from a work ethic instilled in him from his racing family that includes his father, Keith, a former trainer; his brother Cash, a former champion European rider; and his mother, Marilyn, also a trainer.

"It takes work, staying up longer than the next guy, and that's not a problem for him,'' Cash Asmussen said. "He has a lot of strengths and one of them is he likes to win, and no matter what amount of time and effort needs to be put in he'll put in." Asmussen has built one of the biggest stables in the country, with as many as 150 horses in training spread out around Kentucky, Chicago, Texas, and until a week ago, New York. Asmussen had a terrific season in New York, winning five graded stakes, including the Grade 1 Test with Lady Tak and the Grade 1 Futurity with Cuvee. Next month, he will send horses to Louisiana.

The entire family plays a role in Asmussen's success, as his father, brother, and mother all help prepare the horses at the family's El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Texas.

"It is ironic that we started in the south Texas bush tracks hauling horse after horse to every small race meeting racing every Saturday and Sunday, me and Steve getting them ready and my mom leading them over to the racetrack and my dad riding them,'' Cash Asmussen said. "Here we are 30 years later after everybody's done their deal - I left and went to Europe, Steve went to riding for a while. It's great to be back not only as a family unit, but as business unit as well.''

Thus far, Cuvee has shown the potential to be the best horse Asmussen has developed. A brilliant maiden win at Churchill Downs the day before the Kentucky Derby was followed by a dominant 8 1/4-length score in the Kentucky Breeders' Cup 24 days later. Cuvee had a brutal trip when he finished third in the Bashford Manor but rebounded with authoritative victories in the Saratoga Special and Belmont Futurity.

Cash Asmussen recalled the day Cuvee had his first breeze on the farm. Cash and an assistant had prepared five horses to send from the gate.

"This big chestnut with a white face opened up five lengths in 150 yards with his ears pricked and galloped out 15 lengths in front," Cash said. "I turned to my assistant and said we better hope that's a running machine, because if he's not we need to turn ours out and send the money back to the owners now."

While this will be Steve Asmussen's first appearance in the Breeders' Cup, it is unlikely to be his last. According to Cash Asmussen, he and his father have 250 yearlings. Next year, when they are 2-year-olds, the ones who aren't sold will go to Steve.

"I think it's an operation that we're trying to make better every day," Cash said.

For Steve Asmussen and family, Saturday could be the best day yet.