‘Organized’ Asmussen Armada Sets Sail For Ellis Park

However many races Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen wins in pursuit of a third straight Ellis Park training title, he’s unlikely to be beaten in one category: number of horses going to the post during the Ellis meet that runs Sunday through Labor Day.

The Asmussen armada began shipping in from Churchill Downs, its satellite Trackside training center and Keeneland on Friday.

“We’ll have shipped in 45 horses in a matter of 24 hours,” said assistant trainer Mitch Dennison, a 30-year-old Louisville product who will oversee Asmussen’s Ellis Park operation for the first time. “It was trailer, trailer, trailer. There will be 18 more tomorrow. We have 84 stalls here, and they’ll be full by Monday or Tuesday. Steve does it so organized. He selected the horses he wanted to move to Ellis. We pulled in some Keeneland 2-year-olds and a mix of horses for the condition book (racing program).”

Asmussen on Kentucky Derby Day became only the second thoroughbred trainer to win 8,000 races as Lookin At Lee, the 2016 Ellis Park Juvenile winner and 2017 Kentucky Derby runner-up, prevailed in an allowance race. Less than two months later, Asmussen already is up to 8,074 through Thursday as he chases the late Dale Baird’s mark of 9,445 victories.

Asmussen had a staggering 109 starters during last year’s Ellis meet, winning 19 races. That was up from 73 horses (and 16 victories) in 2016, his first time racing a significant number of horses at Ellis in several years. For a career that started in 1986, when he won a single race out of 15 starters, Asmussen has run a total of 38,885 horses in races heading into Friday, when he had 14 horses entered between Churchill Downs and Belmont Park.

He’ll break from the gate quickly at Ellis, running five horses on Sunday’s opening card.

“Everybody wants to always do more, right?” Dennison said. “So we want to try surpass last year’s wins. Obviously we have the numbers to do it. The main thing for us to do is to focus on winning. This is a great place for the 2-year-olds come out of.”

Dennison is used to high volume, having overseen the training and care of as many as 120 Asmussen horses at Keeneland and Louisiana’s Evangeline training center, where he will return this fall for the winter. He expects a turnover of horses at Ellis, with new horses coming in from Churchill and Trackside in advance of races and some others shipping out after running.

“We keep one of our private trailers here and switch around horses all summer long,” he said. “Obviously the 2-year-olds that show more and end up pretty nice breaking their maidens, those horses will end up going to Saratoga.”

Dennison’s stepdad is Steve Peterman, who became Gulfstream Park’s year-round starter in April in a long career that saw him start the races at Ellis Park and Turfway Park before taking the job at Indiana Grand. Dennison started on the racetrack as soon as he graduated from Louisville’s Butler High School.

He was away from the racetrack for a couple of years, working in a city job while getting a degree in business management from Phoenix University. Dennison rejoined Asmussen in late March, overseeing the horses stabled at Churchill Downs’ Trackside satellite training facility.

“I’ve been with Steve off and on for years,” Dennison said. “I think I’ve worked for Steve all together 10 years. He asked me to come back. He said, ‘Ellis Park is a great place to go. I think it would be great for us to be there again, and you to be there.’ I’ve not been stabled at Ellis (in a training situation), myself, but we ran and shipped from Churchill Downs.

“When I first got my Kentucky license, I actually went down to Ellis Park in 2006 and ponied horses.… .Evansville and Henderson, it’s a family feel at the track. I think it’s probably the closest thing you can get to Oaklawn Park as far as all the locals coming out.”

The Asmussen operation came into Friday’s Churchill Downs card with a 26-21 win margin over Brad Cox in the chase for the trainer’s title. Asmussen had 22 horses entered over Churchill’s last two race cards, compared to six for Cox. The two men have combined for the last three Ellis Park training crowns, Cox earning his first title anywhere in 2015 and Asmussen prevailing the last two years.

But Ellis’ enhanced purses and the track surface’s reputation as being kind to horses for racing and training spurred Asmussen to relocate his division that had been in Indiana to Ellis Park in 2016. He took the title 19-17 over Cox last year and 16-11 over Ian Wilkes the prior meet.

“In the 10 years I’ve worked for him, I think he’s got a really, really nice crop of babies,” Dennison said. “Four years ago we had a really good group of 2-year-olds, just left and right. I think this is a really good group. Steve likes Ellis, he likes the surface and he likes that he can stable that many horses on the backside.”

The post ‘Organized’ Asmussen Armada Sets Sail For Ellis Park appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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