Kentucky Derby 2016: Is this Steve Asmussen’s Year?

Kentucky Derby 2016: Is this Steve Asmussen’s Year?
Photo: Steve Dalmado/Eclipse Sportswire

Is 2016 the year that Asmussen finally gets his Kentucky Derby victory? With two probable entries in Gun Runner and Creator, the trainer of Horses of the Year Rachel Alexandra and Curlin has two talented three-year-olds with very different running styles.

With its twenty horse field and the ten-furlong distance, the Kentucky Derby is the most difficult race to win in the United States. Factor in also that it happens only once a year and it is no wonder that even the most successful American trainers struggle to win the big one on the First Saturday in May.

Just elected to the Racing Hall of Fame’s Class of 2016, Steve Asmussen is one of the many high profile conditioners without a Derby victory. Asmussen has won 7,287 races in North America, which is the second highest total all-time. His lifetime winning percentage is 21, yet the Roses have eluded the native of South Dakota. Asmussen has accumulated more than $241,000,000 in purse money along with consecutive Eclipse Awards in 2008 and 2009.

The club of trainers that have never won the Derby has a large and distinguished membership with names like: Bobby Frankel (8: 0-2-1), Jerry Hollendofer (5: 0-0-0), Mike Maker (8: 0-0-0), Ron McAnally (10: 0-0-0), Kiaran McLaughlin (6: 0-1-0), Bill Mott (7: 0-0-0), and Dale Romans (6: 0-0-2). As you can see it is not easy to get a horse into the field or even to finish in the money.

Asmussen’s career record in the Run for the Roses is currently 13: 0-1-1. He had his first Derby starter in 2001 when Fifty Stars finished ninth at odds of 43.60-1 after he rallied a bit from last place. Fifty Stars entered the race with three career wins including the Louisiana Derby. His final prep was a second place in the Lone Star Derby, which was his eighth career start.

In 2002, Asmussen had Private Emblem in the year that War Emblem actually won the race. Private Emblem at 22.40-1 was in contention early in the race but faded to finish fourteenth. He entered the Derby on a three-race win streak that included the Arkansas Derby and the Southwest at Oaklawn Park along with the Black Gold Handicap at Fair Grounds.

Quintons Gold Rush was over 50-1 in 2004 when Smarty Jones had the nation’s attention. Asmussen’s runner won the Lexington two weeks before the Derby and he pressed the pace for the first half-mile and then gave way to be eased and last at the race’s end.

The year of Barbaro, 2006, was the first time that Asmussen had two starters in the Derby with Storm Treasure and Private Vow. Storm Treasure entered the race off a second in the Bluegrass and finished eleventh at long odds, while Private Vow prepped with a third place in the Arkansas Derby and he ended up fifteenth also at very long odds.

In 2007 Curlin entered the Derby unbeaten in three career starts in that year, which included the Rebel and the Arkansas Derby. Curlin was the second betting choice ten cents to the dollar longer than the winner Street Sense. Curlin’s big closing move came up short and resulted in a third place. Curlin would go on to win the Preakness, Jockey Club Gold Cup, and Breeders’ Cup Classic and ultimately be named Horse of the Year and Champion three-year-old. His barn mate Zanjero finished twelfth at 36-1.

The following year Asmussen would also have two Derby runners. Pyro was third choice in 2008 at 5.70-1 based on his second place in the BC Juvenile and wins in the Risen Star and Louisiana Derby. Pyro’s eighth in the Derby looked more like his tenth place finish in the Bluegrass. Z Fortune had won or placed in several Derby preps and was 19-1 when ended up two places behind Pyro.

Asmussen had to wait three years for his next starter, Nehro, who to this date brought Asmussen his best result, a second place behind Animal Kingdom. Nehro briefly had the lead down the stretch at 8.50-1 odds. He went into the Derby with only a maiden win followed by second places in the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbies.

In 2012, Asmussen had two starters again, this year Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat would run behind I’ll Have Another. Daddy Nose Best was 14-1, off wins in the El Camino Real and Sunland Derbys, when he finished tenth. Sabercat was a longshot with a third in the Arkansas Derby that ended up doing very little running in the Derby to get fifteenth.

Tapiture in 2014 was Asmussen’s most recent Derby runner. This son of Tapit went in all three Oaklawn prep races winning the Southwest and then going second and fourth in the Rebel and Arkansas Derby. The bettors didn’t like the pattern and he finished fifteenth at odds of 35-1.

Which brings us to 2016 where Asmussen continued to use Oaklawn Park and the Fair Grounds to prepare for the Run for the Roses. He holds a strong hand coming off the Derby Trail with Creator’s last to first victory in the Arkansas Derby and Gun Runner’s consecutive wins in the Risen Star and the Louisiana Derby.

Is this the year that Asmussen gets his elusive Kentucky Derby win? Gun Runner is perfect in two starts this year and impressed in the Louisiana Derby with a nice burst of speed after stalking the early leaders. The closing style of Creator has been effective on the First Saturday in May in the past.

Since the points system began, the Derby champion made his final start with a victory in one of the 100-point winners. This year Asmussen is holding a strong hand with Gun Runner and Creator as two of those seven. With over 2,000 fans voting in the Horse Racing Nation home page poll, “Who will win the 2016 Kentucky Derby?” Gun Runner is the third choice at 7-1 and Creator stands at 15-1.

Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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