Racing Spotlight: Firenze Fire, Luis Saez, Steve Asmussen
Racing Spotlight is a weekly series that highlights a horse, jockey, and trainer with insightful information to help our players be informed.
This week, we highlight Firenze Fire, a seven-time graded stakes winner making his 2021 debut; jockey Luis Saez, who has experienced success in Dubai, Keeneland and Churchill and is headed to New York; and Steve Asmussen, who recently won his eleventh Oaklawn riding title and is approaching the North American record for most career wins.
Horse spotlight: Firenze Fire
Firenze Fire makes his six-year-old debut in the Runhappy S. (G3) at Belmont on Saturday, a race he won in 2019. The bay horse finished 2020 by placing in three graded stakes: first winning the Vosburgh (G2) at Belmont, then finishing third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Keeneland and closing out the year with a second place finish by half a length in the Mr. Prospector (G3) at Gulfstream.
The Vosburgh was his third graded stakes win in 2020 and his seventh overall. His purse earnings exceed $2.2 million.
Firenze Fire has made four Breeders’ Cup appearances: the 2017 Juvenile (7th), the 2018 Dirt Mile (4th), 2019 Sprint (5th) and the 2020 Sprint (3rd). He also competed in the 2018 Kentucky Derby (11th).
In the Runhappy, he faces Chateau, who won twice this year, including a victory in the Tom Fool H. (G3) before placing fourth in the Carter H. (G1), all at Aqueduct.
Firenze Fire is trained by Kelly Breen, who grew up in New Jersey going to races at Monmouth Park, where he has won several leading trainer titles, with his father. He saddled 2011 Belmont S. (G1) winner Ruler on Ice, who finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) the same year.
Firenze Fire will be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the nation’s leading rider in both wins and purse earnings.
Jockey spotlight: Luis Saez
After 11 days of the 38-card spring meet at Churchill Downs, Luis Saez tops the jockey standings with nine wins.
This continues a banner year for Saez, who has 11 graded stakes wins and is currently the country’s fourth leading rider by wins and fifth by earnings (he ranked third in both categories in 2020). This spring, he won the $12 million Dubai World Cup (G1) aboard Mystic Guide and then earned a Keeneland riding title for the first time.
He piloted Essential Quality, the Kentucky Derby (G1) favorite, in four graded stakes wins leading up to his fourth-place finish in the Run for the Roses. However, Saez notched a victory on the undercard, riding Flagstaff to a win in the Churchill Downs S. (G1). Saez was the jockey for Maximum Security, who crossed the finish line first in the 2019 Derby but was disqualified due to interference.
Next, Saez heads to New York, which has been a regular base for him, and Belmont Park, where he has mounts in four stakes races on Saturday, including the Man o’ War (G1) on Field Pass, the winner of the Ontario Derby (G3) in November.
His agent is Kiaran McLaughlin, who retired from training in March 2020.
The 28-year-old native of Panama is a graduate of the Laffit Pincay Jr. Jockey School in Panama City. In 2009, his first full year of riding in the U.S., he was nominated for the Eclipse Award for top apprentice jockey. He started at Calder, where he won four riding titles, and he has also won titles at Gulfstream Park. He is married, and he and his wife have three daughters.
Trainer spotlight: Steve Asmussen
Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen currently ranks first among all North American Thoroughbred trainers in both wins (188) and purse earnings (with over $11 million). He finished 2020 at the top of both categories and has been the top trainer by wins ten years throughout his career. This year, he has won at a 21% rate and hit the board 51% of the time and has won six graded stakes, including the Arkansas Derby (G1) with Super Stock.
In September, he became only the second trainer in Thoroughbred racing history to reach 9,000 career wins. The current leader is Dale Baird, who went to the winner's circle 9,445 times from 1961-1997. Asmussen has 9,317 career wins, so he could break this record this year if performs the same as he has the past five years.
Last weekend, Asmussen received his 11th leading trainer title at Oaklawn, tying Hall of Famer Henry Forrest, who won 11 titles between 1947 and 1963. Asmussen also broke his single-season Oaklawn record for purse earnings with over $6 million. On the same day, he saddled Pat Day Mile (G2) winner Jackie’s Warrior on the Kentucky Derby undercard and two Run for the Roses contestants: Midnight Bourbon (6th) and Super Stock (16th).
In addition to Arkansas and Kentucky, his stable has divisions in New York, Texas, Louisiana and Indiana.
He spent several seasons as a jockey, and he won his first race as a trainer as a 20-year-old in 1986 at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico. He won the Eclipse Award as the outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009 and trained Curlin, Rachel Alexandra, Gun Runner, who were all named Horse of the Year.