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Eclipse in sight for Asmussen

It wasn’t long ago in horse racing that the surname Asmussen referred to Cash, a champion jockey in America and Europe. His younger brother, Steve, tried riding but quickly grew too big. So in 1986, Steve Asmussen turned to training horses.

Cash cast the tall shadow in the family until 2001 when he retired. Now, more than 4,400 career wins later, his kid brother has eclipsed him.

It’s almost a given that trainer Steve Asmussen will join Cash as an Eclipse Award winner. Winning a record 558 races this year and counting — and having Horse of the Year Curlin under your care — will do that for you. Steve was an Eclipse runner-up in 2004, ’05 and ’07, but this year the honor should be his.

Some in racing will find this distasteful. Asmussen runners have had about two dozen drug positives, one of which led to a six-month ban for the trainer in 2006. However, in his defense, he keeps about 200 or so horses in training and averages about 2,500 starts a year. The percentage of lifetime positives is actually pretty minuscule.

When Asmussen was under suspension in 2006, his El Primero Training Center stable in Laredo, Texas, barely missed a beat. Asmussen’s top assistant is Scott Blasi, who proved his mettle during that period in 2006.

The late Dale Baird is the all-time leader in wins with 9,445. If Asmussen keeps up his current pace, he’ll catch Baird in about 10 years.

Curlin was Asmussen’s breakthrough horse in emphasizing quality over quantity. Asmussen might win 20,000 races before he’s through. But rightly or wrongly, unless he wins more Triple Crown, Breeders’ Cup and Grade I stakes, he’ll be judged in a different light.

DERBY FUTURES — Lucky’s Race & Sports Book has joined Wynn Las Vegas in offering Kentucky Derby futures wagering. Midshipman and Vineyard Haven are current co-favorites, but there are great odds on most other horses.

QUALIFIERS — There are precious few qualifiers left for the three major handicapping tournaments in 2009: the DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship, the Horseplayer World Series and the South Point Finale. All will be in Las Vegas.

Aliante Station will host a qualifier Dec. 6. The entry fee is $200, and the top two finishers will earn seats into the NHC.

Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday. He can be reached at rich_eng@hotmail.com.

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