Everyone in our area is familiar in some way with horse racing. Some are full blown horse aficionados and can’t get enough racing. Others are casual fans, maybe paying attention to the Triple Crown races when they go to a Kentucky Derby party or going to the track a few times a summer when the Saratoga thoroughbred meet takes place. While there are a good amount of crossovers between the thoroughbred and harness racing games, it seems as if the majority of people really loves one of them and can take or leave the other. It wouldn’t be uncommon for a fan of the “runners” to wonder what, for example, the Hambletonian is yet for harness racing fans that would seem to be blasphemy. The passion that many harness racing people have doesn’t always extend to the thoroughbreds either. While there certainly are plenty of crossover fans, it often feels like there is a big separation between thoroughbred and harness racing.
While the majority of horse owners are exclusive to one kind of racing or the other, there is certainly a crossover that occurs there too. One instance of the “flat track” and the harness track worlds colliding started last summer. Trainer Steve Asmussen is a name extremely familiar to fans of horse racing but the veteran conditioner wasn’t extremely familiar with harness racing before coming to Saratoga Casino Hotel with his family last summer. They had been to the harness track on occasion before and joined family friend of the Asmussens, Joe DeSantis, at the track one summer night. DeSantis has a friend that was a first time owner of standardbreds last year. Mike Harmon enjoyed success in ’15 with claiming pacer See You Smile who served as the first foray into owning for the long time harness racing fan. DeSantis came to the track to watch See You Smile one evening and the Asmussens joined him. Steve along with wife Julie and their sons Keith, Darren and Erik made their way over for a night at the races and while See You Smile didn’t win that evening, his trainer Andy Sardella had a different winner on the card. DeSantis and the Asmussen family ventured into the winner’s circle where they were introduced to Sardella. They briefly spoke and expressed interest in coming to the barn sometime. Though Andy admittedly didn’t recognize Asmussen that night, he invited them to bring their boys to the barn any time they wanted. Little did he know, he was inviting young men who had spent a large part of their youth around horses and in the stables.
Julie and the boys really enjoyed their trip to the barn and the following week, Julie Asmussen became a harness racing owner. She and the boys spend most of the summer in Saratoga and they wanted to have a horse of their own at the harness track that they could come watch race every week while they were in town. Additionally, when the family would go to Sardella’s barn, Keith would help jog the horses at times. The first horse they claimed was veteran pacer This Is Wyatt who finished second in their lone race with him as he got claimed back out of his first start for them. The Asmussens quickly found another horse to claim when they acquired a trotter named Credit Score. “When he won, it was just a total thrill,” Julie Asmussen told me. “It was something we all really enjoyed, a great family memory for us.” They enjoyed two wins with Credit Score before they lost him to a claim. At that point, the summer was over and the Asmussens said that they’d be back next year and would look into getting another horse. A few weeks ago they claimed pacer Esprit De Kayjay A, a veteran campaigner who had been in the claiming ranks at the Spa for several months. Esprit De Kayjay A was the runner-up in his second start for his new connections while competing in a conditional race before returning to claimers on Saturday night.
It was an extremely special weekend for the Asmussens as Steve became a Hall of Famer on Friday. The veteran trainer who has piled up almost 7,400 wins en route to purses of $245 million was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in Saratoga. He entered the Hall the same year in which Rachel Alexandra was enshrined. Appropriate as she was one of the most successful horses that Steve ever trained. The Asmussens celebrated Steve’s phenomenal honor with a party that they hosted on Saturday night. They had hoped to come to see Esprit De Kayjay A race but between having a host of company over and the powerful storms that blasted Saratoga on Saturday night, they didn’t make it over for the race. Esprit De Kayjay A parlayed the pocket ride to victory in his $12,500 claimer and the Asmussens had their third career win as harness racing owners. They made the announcement of the victory to the many friends and loved ones at their gathering.
Julie and the boys will head back to Texas this week since school in the south starts much earlier than it does here in the northeast but they didn’t leave town before they secured a win with Esprit De Kayjay A. “It was really the icing on the cake on what was just a terrific week for us,” Julie said. Julie, who introduced her husband into the Hall of Fame on Friday, told me how special of a summer it has been for them. “Keith has been galloping for Steve in the morning and Darren, who is sixteen now, has also starting doing it. They’re at the barn very early every morning. Erik (who is thirteen) is still too young to work but we all just love the horses.” The Asmussens love affair for the horses makes sense. After all, the mother grew up as a horse lover, the father is a Hall of Fame trainer and the boys, well, they love the experiences with the horses as well. It’s what they’ve known their entire lives. And their love for horses and horse racing has crossed over recently as they’ve added a passion for harness racing to their horse resume. Congratulations to Steve Asmussen on his induction into the Hall of Fame and continued success for a great family who simply loves horses and horse racing.
Live racing takes place every Tuesday through Saturday during the month of August with first post time each night set for 7:05pm. Until next week, I’m Mike Sardella wishing you the best of luck and we’ll see YOU at the finish line!