Keith Asmussen Grateful for KY Oaks, KY Derby Mounts (2024)

Keith Asmussen set a goal to ride one race as a jockey. He felt it would be an experience no one could take away from him. Invigorated by piloting a horse, he set bigger racing goals, and his short career has shot to a new level in 2024. Asmussen has mounts in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the Kentucky Oaks (G1), he won his first graded stakes race, and he ranks second in the jockey standings at Oaklawn Park.

The son of Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen, the all-time winningest trainer in North America, has been involved with his father's stable for years. He started hot-walking horses when he was 15. As a junior and senior in high school, he galloped horses before his first class of the day. His summers were spent at Lone Star Park and Saratoga Race Course.

In 2020, Asmussen was a junior at The University of Texas at Austin when his classes went online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Since he could complete his coursework anywhere, he decided to simultaneously work for his father's assistant trainer, Darren Fleming, at Oaklawn and get his 5-foot 10-inch frame into a jockey physique. At the conclusion of the meet, he went to Lone Star and rode in his first race June 15 of that year.

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"It's such an intense and profound feeling to be able to ride a Thoroughbred racehorse in full flight," he said. "It's an incredible feeling."

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He continued as a member of the Lone Star jockey colony, and Asmussen earned his first win July 26, 2020, on a bay colt named Inis Gluaire, riding for his father. It was his 19th career mount. He shifted his tack to Remington Park and closed the summer with a record of six wins, 13 seconds, and 10 thirds from 61 starts in 2020 in his first year of riding professionally.

"It ended up going a lot better than I expected. I had an agreement with my dad that once I started, I would resume school in the fall. But that stint gave me the idea in the back of my mind that I could do it for real," Keith Asmussen said. "I knew when I graduated, I wanted to give it another try."

Asmussen earned a master's degree in professional accounting in 2022. He returned to the ironsOct. 27, 2022, and has been riding full-time since then.

"It is everything I thought it was going to be and more," he said.

His 2023 season also exceeded his expectations, with the exception of breaking his left index finger in the starting gate May 18 at Lone Star. The injury sidelined him for two months.

While Asmussen has ridden many races for his father, two of his biggest career moments have come from another legend: Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.

Asmussen earned his first graded stakes win Feb. 24 aboard Lukas-trained Lemon Muffin in the Honeybee Stakes (G3), a 3 1/2-length upset at 28-1 odds that awarded the filly qualifying points toward the Kentucky Oaks.

Keith Asmussen Grateful for KY Oaks, KY Derby Mounts (1)

"She is an ultra-classy filly with a ton of talent. I had ridden her once in a six-furlong race, and I always thought very highly of her," he said. "I was excited to stretch her out. She didn't disappoint. She really took no prisoners. It was incredibly sentimental given that it was my first graded stakes victory and also that it was for 'The Coach.'"

Lukas and Keith's grandparents, Keith and Marilyn Asmussen, moved from South Dakota to Laredo, Texas, together in the 1960s. The Asmussens still live there, where they have owned and operated El Primero Training Center for more than 60 years. Keith is named after this grandfather.

Lemon Muffin finished a disappointing seventh in her next race, the Fantasy Stakes (G2), but Lukas believes she was flat that day and wasn't acting like herself. He says she has been sharp ever since and could be a surprise contender in the Kentucky Oaks.

The Arkansas Derby (G1) followed the Fantasy Stakes on the March 30 Oaklawn race card. Just Steel, Keith Asmussen, and D. Wayne Lukas finished second at 32-1 odds, clinching a spot in the Kentucky Derby starting gate.

Keith Asmussen Grateful for KY Oaks, KY Derby Mounts (2)

Just Steel, a son of 2018 Triple Crown winner Justify, is the only horse who competed in all four of Oaklawn's Kentucky Derby points races, finishing second in the Smarty Jones Stakes, second in the Southwest Stakes (G3), and seventh in the Rebel Stakes (G2).

"I felt incredibly lucky to ride Just Steel. He is ultra-talented and classy. I love being on him because he's got huge, beautiful gallop and is a competitor."

Asmussen has been to every Kentucky Derby he can remember with his father, except for last year when he was riding at Oaklawn.

"The walk-overs are always so exciting. Curlin's walk-over and Untapable's walk-over stand out," Asmussen recalled. "Singing 'My Old Kentucky Home' in the stands, the atmosphere is second to none."

The prospect of competing in the Kentucky Derby hits differently.

"It's very exciting, very emotional. It is the pinnacle of the game. It's the level you strive to compete at. I never imagined I would have these opportunities so soon."

Asmussen doesn't rule out using his accounting degree in the future, but understandably, his success has kept him focused entirely on horse racing.

"I don't think I have tunnel vision into just one thing. But for the time being, I am 100% jockey all in, all the time, and I plan on doing it until it doesn't make sense," he said. "I am truly thankful that I have the opportunity to do this. I think it's something that is very beautiful. When I started, I wanted to ride one race. For it to kind of snowball into this career, it feels very special."

Keith Asmussen Grateful for KY Oaks, KY Derby Mounts (2024)

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