A celebration of bloodlines

Horse racing: Saturday's classic at Pimlico will be off the charts on the Asmussen family's scale of hits as Cash and Steve make history in their bid with Snuck In.

125th Preakness

May 17, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Cash and Steve Asmussen shared a room growing up at their parents' training facility in Texas. The boys talked about horses - "eight days a week, 25 hours a day," Cash said, "when we weren't talking about girls."

And they dreamed. They dreamed of participating someday in the greatest horse races - participating together as family, as brothers.

On Saturday, in the 125th Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course, Cash and Steve will make history as the first brother jockey-trainer combination in the race. Cash rides and Steve trains Snuck In, one of three fresh horses who will try to derail the Fusaichi Pegasus Triple Crown express.

Scheduled to arrive today at Pimlico, Snuck In has not finished worse than third in nine races. He's won five, finished second twice and third once. In his last race, the Arkansas Derby five weeks ago at Oaklawn Park, the Montbrook colt finished second.

Cash flew in from France to ride him then. He did the same in his previous two races, both stakes victories: the Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn and the Gallery Furniture Juvenile Stakes at Sam Houston Race Park.

The brothers had teamed up before, but never in a race as big as the Preakness."This is something I can't wait to get up in the morning for," Cash said from his home in Chantilly, France.

Cash, 38, is an international riding star based in France. Steve, 34, is an emerging star among American trainers, currently ranked second in wins and 12th in earnings.

Cash has won some of the greatest races in the world, including the Breeders' Cup Mile, but has never ridden in the Preakness. He has ridden three times in the Kentucky Derby and once in the Belmont, finishing no better than fourth. Steve has never saddled a horse in a Triple Crown race.

Cash said it would be terrific winning the Preakness, especially beating a horse as highly regarded as Fusaichi Pegasus, the Kentucky Derby winner.

"But it's nice to know there're a lot of things deeper for us," Cash said.

Those things revolve around family and growing up with horses in Texas. Cash and Steve's mother, Marilyn, trained horses, and their father, Keith, rode them.

In 1980, Marilyn and Keith founded the El Primero training center in Laredo, Texas, and developed it into one of the most respected in the country. They prepare 2-year-olds for sales and racetracks around the country.

Cash and Steve shared a room in a trailer there as boys - and cut their teeth on horses. On weekends, they traveled with their parents from bush track to bush track, playing dice and cards at night for gambling money the next day.

Both boys became jockeys, but Steve quickly outgrew the job and turned to training. Cash ventured to New York and earned distinction in 1979 by winning the Eclipse Award as leading apprentice rider in North America.

The leap from Laredo to New York would be daunting for most 17-year-olds. But for Cash, his family foundation provided support."They were always like the pillar," Cash said. "It's like you never have to check your swing, because the worst you can do is come home."

He succeeded in New York, but still he came home. Cash flew to Texas after the races every Monday night, only to fly back to New York the next afternoon.

In 1982, he signed a contract to ride in France for Stavros Niarchos and famed trainer Francois Boutin. Cash became a champion jockey in France and an international standout, winning such major races at the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, French Derby and Irish Derby.

He returns home for five months every year and works at the family training center. After his brother picked out Snuck In for $130,000 at last year's Ocala, Fla., sale of 2-year-olds, Cash rode him at El Primero.

Snuck In could be Steve's best colt. Since obtaining his trainer's license in 1986, he has labored at tracks off the beaten path and earned training titles at Remington Park, Sam Houston, Retama and Lone Star Park.

This year, he is averaging more than a win a day at Lone Star. He has won 30 races, 18 more than the second-place trainer and three more than the leading jockey."An overnight, 20-year success," Cash calls him.

Steve's breakthrough horse was Valid Expectations, who won the 1996 Derby Trial. His filly Dreams Gallore finished second in last year's Kentucky Oaks and Black-Eyed Susan Stakes and then won the Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park.

For Steve, the Mother Goose was his first, and so far only, Grade I victory.

He decided to pass the Kentucky Derby with Snuck In after the colt seemed over-eager in his final workout before the race. Steve says that might have been "a blessing in disguise."

The five weeks between the Arkansas Derby and Preakness have allowed him to prepare Snuck In gradually for the greatest challenge of his young career.

"He runs in the Preakness for the same reason he didn't run in the Derby," Steve said. "It's the fit."

Steve likes the distance (a sixteenth of a mile shorter than the Derby's 1 1/4 miles), Pimlico's reputation as a track that favors speed and the five weeks between races, during which Snuck In has continued to develop and mature.

Steve said he isn't particularly concerned about Fusaichi Pegasus, even though, he said, "He's the most impressive Derby winner I've ever seen."

He said his concern is preparing his horse as thoroughly for the race as possible. Having Cash ride, and their parents in attendance, as well - they all arrive tomorrow - could make the day the greatest in his career.

"Winning any race makes me silly happy," Steve said. "I can't imagine how happy I'd be winning a race this big."

Race facts

Where: Pimlico Race Course

When: Saturday

Post time: 5:27 p.m.

Gates open: 8:30 a.m.

Distance: 1 3/16 miles

Purse: $1million

TV: Chs. 2, 7 (coverage begins at 4:30 p.m.)

Kentucky Derby winner: Fusaichi Pegasus

Information: 410-542-9400

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