Catching My Eye: The Asmussen Barn Storms Ellis Park

July 5th, 2023

Let’s talk about the meet Steve Asmussen’s barn just had. First the numbers.

In 64 starts since the Churchill Downs meet moved over to Ellis Park on June 10, Asmussen won 22 races (34%). Impressive. Spanning only four weekends, this wasn't a situation where some formful runners strung together a few, no. Sixty-one different horses walked over from the Asmussen barn to the Pea Patch, and none of the three who did run twice won more than once.

With 13 place and seven show finishes to boot, just about every Thoroughbred they entered was sitting on go. But the runners were not bet like it. Putting $2 on every Asmussen entry’s nose at Ellis Park since June 10 netted a $3.67 ROI.

With $2,300,338 in earnings, Asmussen owners definitely did not need to be hitting the windows to come out on top at Ellis Park.

Disarm got it done, as did Pauline’s Pearl and Society. Ryvit won the Maxfield and Marsalis ran a game second to Bango in the Kelly’s Landing. What might pique your interest even more than the Asmussen headliners is to know that the majority of the winners were maiden breakers. Twelve to be exact, most of them lightly-raced three-year-olds, with a couple of impressive two-year-olds and four-year-olds graduating as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the top efforts by the meet-leading barn over Stephen Foster Week at Ellis Park.

The $175,000 Maxfield Stakes

Ryvit made it back-to-back stakes wins on Sunday, taking the $175,000 Maxfield Stakes at seven furlongs. Bringing a 95 Brisnet Speed figure from his win in the Chick Lang (G3), Ryvit butted up close to that top performance with a 94 in the Maxfield.

Speed figures are one thing but who you beat is another, and this was a talented group of three-year-old sprinters. In order of finish behind Ryvit was Mullikin, Squire Creek, Damon’s Mound, Frosted Departure, Tumbarumba, and Gunflash.  A formful group, and between the Maxfield and Saturday’s Dywer Stakes (G3) at Belmont, it’s easy to see this is one deep and impressive crop of sprinters.

The Maxfield happened in the slop and there was little change of order throughout, so this might be a runner you want to play against at a short price going forward, especially considering how he won the Chick Lang (G3).

Tapit v. Tapit

It wasn’t a big step forward and he didn’t get the win, but, still, how impressive was Magic Tap on Friday? After capturing everyone's attention breaking his maiden at Churchill Downs on June 2, the son of Tapit owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds took on another by the same sire. Brad Cox's Tapit’s Conquest lined up to the inside, making his first start against allowance ranks after racing in Derby preps this spring, and most recently the Sir Barton at Pimlico.

With 1 1/8 miles still to travel, Magic Tap stumbled slightly out of the gate. The gray colt with the white coat overcame the trouble and shot to the front while Tapit’s Conquest fought through a tight spot to get up close and personal with Magic Tap. A match race unfolded from there, and the pressure Cox’s entry was applying shifted to an all-out bid for the lead before the second turn. The two promising sophomores dueled the rest of the way home. Magic Tap gamely fought back a couple of times after being headed, with a head bob the margin between them at the finish.

This was just Tapit's Conquest’s second win to go with three place-finishes. There might be a touch of hang in him, something to consider.

Maiden Breakers

The Asmussen-trained maiden-breakers Copper Em, Route Runner, Absinthe, Billy Jack, and Bramito all earned 90 Brisnet Speed figures or above this past week.

Let’s start on Friday and the debut of the two-year-old Copper Em. The son of Copper Bullet out of the Scat Daddy mare Lovely Em managed to break in second from post No. 10 in a field of 12. He took the lead before the first call, never looking back throughout the five furlongs to win by over 4 lengths at nearly 16-1. The maiden-breaking effort garnered a 90.

In the last race on Friday, it was Route Runner. Showing his talent but being stopped on the rail when making a big move in his last start, the bettors let him go at 4-1. In his sixth race but his first try at 1 1/4 miles, the son of Gun Runner settled early, loomed five-wide through the second turn, took the lead, and won by two.

On Saturday, Absinthe kept the Amsussen train rolling to the winner’s circle when beating the steamy Cox horse Pumpkin Scone by open lengths. Both three-year-old fillies were making their second start after earning solid speed figures on debut, but Absinthe proved best after stalking and punching past Pumpkin Scone over a speed-favoring track, earning a 91 Brisnet Speed rating in the process.

Billy Jack had a lot go his way breaking his maiden Sunday in his fourth try, but the 95 Brisnet Speed figure he earned is too impressive to ignore.

Breaking from the inside in post number 2, the three-year-old colt by Uncle Mo glided out with powerful and professional speed, beating three outside bids to the front. Though positioned close behind, no one pressured Billy Jack into discomfort and he relaxed nicely on the lead. Coming home, Billy Jack pulled away by more than three lengths and officially beat Carcano’s game run by two.

Sticking to sprint distances in his first four starts, Billy Jack became the first foal out of the Unbridled’s Song mare C.S. Royce to win sprinting on any surface. The average winning distance of the seven scores by the dam’s progeny was 8.5 furlongs going into Billy Jack’s win on Sunday. We could definitely see him going longer.

Even though the track favored forward horses, Bramito was able to come from off the pace to win the finale on Sunday, a fitting end to the Churchill Downs/Ellis Park meet. The son of Gun Runner out of the Bernardini mare R Gypsy Gold pocketed a 90 Bisnet in his debut effort, notching yet another open-length victory for the Asmussen barn.