Dark Horse

Is Steve Asmussen the greatest racehorse trainer in America, or is he a cheater?

He liked being home. He took his kids fishing. He watched basketball practice, which he had never before had time to do.

And he realized something: He was headed in the wrong direction. Believe it or not, he didn't want to be like D. Wayne Lukas, the legendary trainer his father had ridden for, the man who had brought them to Texas. "He's on about his fifth wife. And his kids don't talk to him," Asmussen says. "Do you want to know what bothers him? Not having one in the Derby, at 70-something. You've already won it more than anybody else. I don't want to be that."

And so things are different now. Tonight, he was two hours late to the track because he was at home swimming with his boys. Maybe it was winning the Preakness, maybe that took some of the weight off his shoulders. In any event, he is much more relaxed than he has ever been before.

Asmussen grew up around horses and longed to be a jockey like his dad and brother.
Asmussen grew up around horses and longed to be a jockey like his dad and brother.
For an hour straight on Memorial Day, Steve Asmussen signed autographs for adoring fans at Lone Star Park. The trainer remains based at Lone Star, even though he could go to a bigger track.
Mark Graham
For an hour straight on Memorial Day, Steve Asmussen signed autographs for adoring fans at Lone Star Park. The trainer remains based at Lone Star, even though he could go to a bigger track.

What other people say about him—if they say he's cruel to his help or obsessed with winning, or worst of all, that he's a cheat—he doesn't care much. What matters most to him is what his family thinks of him. "When everybody tells you you're great, they ain't right, and when they tell you you're shit, they ain't right," he says. "But if you got my family to go home to, you didn't have a bad day. Those are the things that matter."

As if on cue, he looks up to see that his wife and sons have arrived. She is a former flight attendant with blond hair, piercing blue eyes and shapely legs. Their boys look a lot like her. He waves them over, and one of his boys shows him the tooth he lost earlier in the day. Asmussen tousles his boy's hair and laughs.

Later that night, Asmussen is in the usual spot where he watches races—a metal bench near the rail. His boys sit between him and his wife.

It's a race no one will remember, the fifth or sixth race on a forgettable Friday-night card, played out on a soft track beneath the lights. The horse starts slow and appears to have no chance. Then, around the final turn, he makes his move. And as usual, Steve Asmussen wins.

"People who say I'm a cheater? Well, that's the dumbest thing I ever heard," he says. "On average, mine cost a 100 [thousand], yours cost 10 [thousand], and you're wondering why I'm beating you? It ain't any kind of drugs or anything else. The horses are just faster."

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