If anyone had asked trainer Steve
Asmussen over the winter to pick a Triple Crown
horse out of his stable, the name Nehro wouldn’t have come up.
Owned by Ahmed Zayat, Nehro didn’t make his race debut
until last December, running fourth to Prime Cut in a six-furlong maiden sprint
at Fair Grounds. From there he ran 10th
of 11 in a one-mile event at Oaklawn Park
in January before winning in a similar spot there four weeks later.
“When he came in, he was a nice horse,” Asmussen said. “We
put a little time in him and felt like he would benefit from a little patience.
We gave him time off in Kentucky
and he came back in, and he has surprised us. He had one gate work over the
winter in New Orleans that was impressive before he ever started, and a fairly
good race for him first time out for a horse that you didn’t feel had a lot of
“Justin Phillip was in New
Orleans for Mr. Zayat, so we sent him up to Oaklawn. He
got very tight off the race and didn’t run much, if at all. From that point,
you’re further behind than where you want to be but, boy, he’s touched some
markers and put himself in a very good position. He’s had three excellent races
in a row with three second-place finishes, but we want to get over that hump.
It’s time to win one of these.”
A son of 2003 Horse of the Year
Mineshaft, Nehro galloped 1 ½ miles on Friday and Asmussen planned to school
him in the paddock during the afternoon card.
“Yesterday, with the heat, we were a little bit concerned,
but the cooler weather today allows us the possibility,” he said. “All is good.
The weather is way cooler today, a way better feeling day. The water the
racetrack got seemed to tighten it up, and I think that was a positive.
Hopefully, we’ll just have a good day tomorrow.”
Nehro was second by a neck in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and Grade 1 Arkansas
Derby prior to his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby, where he was
2 ¾ lengths behind Animal Kingdom, and a neck in front of Mucho Macho Man. He
is second choice on the morning line at 4-to-1.
“I think one of the things that has allowed him to be in
the races that he has is his attitude,” Asmussen said. “He hasn’t been
overwhelmed. The stage hasn’t been too big for him. He’s shown up.”
One of the country’s most prolific trainers in terms of
wins, starts, and purses earned, the two-time Eclipse Award winner will be
saddling a Belmont Stakes horse for just the second time. In 2007, Curlin was beaten a head by Rags
to Riches, the first filly victress since 1905.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Curlin this week,” Asmussen
said. “I can’t believe it happened, but I watched it. It happened. She ran
incredible. They came home in 48 [seconds] going a mile and a half. Some things
are just completely out of your hands. The next day, the next week … four years
later, and I still can’t believe he got beat. But he did.”