Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen recorded his 500th career victory at Oaklawn in Monday’s seventh race, according to Equibase, racing’s official data organization.
Asmussen, 51, reached the milestone when favored Hence, a 3-year-old Calumet Farm homebred colt, broke his maiden at 1 1/16 miles under Ramon Vazquez.
The late Bob Holthus – nine Oaklawn training titles between 1967-1991 – and four-time Oaklawn training champion David Vance, who won a single-season record 50 races in 1974, are among only a handful of other trainers with 500 career victories in Hot Springs.
Hence was also the 7,500th North American victory for Asmussen, who trails only the late Dale Baird (9,445) on the all-time career list.
“It’s a great win here, it really is,” Asmussen said. “Oaklawn has always been very good to us and hopefully that will continue. Seventy-fifth hundred lifetime and 500th at Oaklawn, I kind of thought that was neat. Hopefully, we’ve got another 500 wins in us here.”
Asmussen, who has collected seven Oaklawn training titles since 2007, started his first horse in Hot Springs March 24, 1989 (Dawns Clever Trick ran ninth in the $35,000 Second Pleasure Stakes).
Asmussen’s first Oaklawn winner was Feb. 9, 1996 (Honest J). The trainer’s first of 68 local stakes victories to date came the following day when older brother, American and European riding champion Cash Asmussen, guided Valid Expectations to a seven-length victory in the $50,000 Mountain Valley for 3-year-old sprinters.
“He wasn’t kind of, he was my first big horse,” Asmussen said. “My first stakes winner here. He was my first stakes winner in a lot of states.”
Asmussen won the $75,000 Honeybee Stakes (G3) in 1999 at Oaklawn with Dreams Gallore, who would become the trainer’s first Grade I winner later that year in the $250,000 Mother Goose at Belmont Park.
Asmussen has won Oaklawn’s biggest race, the now-$1 million Arkansas Derby (G1) three times – Private Emblem in 2002, Curlin in 2007 and Creator in 2016.
Curlin, in his first start for Asmussen and straight from a dazzling career-debut victory at Gulfstream Park, won the $300,000 Rebel Stakes (G3), Oaklawn’s major local prep for the Arkansas Derby.
“You talk about taking it to a different level,” Asmussen said.
Curlin was named Horse of the Year in 2007 and 2008 and retired as the all-time leading money winner for a North America-based horse ($10,501,800). The colt also provided provided Asmussen his first Triple Crown victory (2007 Preakness). The trainer’s third came in last year’s Belmont Stakes with Creator. It was Asmussen’s first Belmont victory.
Asmussen won Eclipse Awards as the nation’s outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009, when he won a North American-record 650 races and led in purse money ($21,884,695). He was Oaklawn’s leading trainer in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016.
Asmussen won 46 races at last year’s meet, setting a single-season record for purse earnings ($3,448,729). Overall at Oaklawn, he has 500 victories from 2,289 starters and purse earnings of $20,314,872 since 1989, according to Equibase.
Asmussen saddled Terra Promessa to win the $125,000 Pippin Stakes for older fillies and mares Saturday at Oaklawn.
Asmussen, who was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in August, had his 7,000th career North American winner April 1, 2015, at Oaklawn, according to Equibase.
Asmussen’s Oaklawn division is overseen by longtime assistant Darren Fleming.