|Is Rising Star Cody Autrey the
Next Steve Asmussen?
(April 19, 2006) - Rival
trainers would not be surprised to learn that when Cody Autrey went
to Las Vegas on his honeymoon last month he won $4,000 playing poker.
After all, Texas Hold ‘Em is the one diversion Autrey allows
himself to revel in for a few hours each week; every other minute,
he lives and breathes Thoroughbreds. As the unfortunate souls who
sit down with him to play cards have found, Autrey brings to poker
the same discipline and assertiveness that has made him one of Lone
Star Park’s top horsemen. He studies religiously, calculates
constantly and maneuvers deftly. In the end, if you leave yourself
open, he’ll find a way to make money off you.
One thing Autrey doesn’t do with horses, though, is hold
‘em. Through aggressive claiming and placement that results
in constant turnover, the 26-year-old has quickly built up one of
the most formidable stables in Texas. His tireless work ethic, keen
eye and growing success have elicited comparisons to the most famous
Texas trainer of them all—Steve Asmussen, the national win
leader three of the past four years. A comparison of their stats
at Autrey’s age suggests there could be a future star building
the foundation for Grade I success in Grand Prairie, as Asmussen
did in the late 1990s.
Entering the second week of racing, Autrey and Asmussen are tied
for first in the Lone Star trainer standings with six wins apiece.
Autrey said he won’t be able to hang onto the top spot much
longer, but called it “an honor” just to be up there
with the likes of Asmussen and Bret Calhoun. If his growth over
the past three years is any indication, though, it may only be one
or two more seasons until Autrey has the quality and numbers to
challenge the leaders here through an entire meet. Currently, Autrey
has 47 stalls at Lone Star, just under the maximum of 50 allotted
to Asmussen, Calhoun, Danny Pish and Cole Norman.
“I’m not so sure I want more than 50 horses, but I
want better quality,” Autrey said. “I want to be able
to get some of the 2-year-olds and yearlings that cost some money.
Winning will put you in the position to do that. You’re always
looking for the next horse in your barn that can win the stakes
and put you in the limelight.”
Winning hasn’t been a problem for Autrey the past three years.
After two wins in his first season as a trainer here, 2002, and
four in 2003, he broke out with 11 at the 2004 spring meet, good
enough for a 12th-place tie. He came back to the Fall Breeders’
Cup Meeting to serve notice he would be a force in 2005, posting
eight wins in 19 days.
Through it all, Autrey has stuck by his strategy of spotting horses
where they can win, even if it means drastically dropping them right
off a claim. As a result, he’s been the leading trainer by
win percentage here the past two spring seasons (36.7% in 2004 and
32.6% in 2005). Last year, Autrey’s stable exploded for a
fifth-place finish with 30 wins, including his first local stakes
victory with 2-year-old Premier Dance in the Middleground Stakes.
Learning From the Best
Even though they face each other several times every week during
the Lone Star season, Autrey and Asmussen maintain a close friendship.
Autrey has long admired Asmussen’s horsemanship and has learned
plenty from watching and emulating Lone Star’s all-time leading
“Steve’s one of my best friends at the track,”
Autrey said. “W e do a lot of business together, we talk all
the time. He runs his horses where they can win and he’s very
competitive. He wants to win every race and I think we’re
similar in that respect. We’re competitors and friends. ”
One of the biggest edges that Asmussen and Autrey share is their
knowledge of other runners on the grounds. Both trainers are able
to place their horses with confidence, knowing what it takes to
win at a certain level here and often being able to guess who will
enter what spot.
“Steve knows a lot of horses on the racetrack that aren’t
his and I try to do the same thing,” Autrey said. “I
like to watch other people’s horses as much as I like to watch
mine. I might see a horse galloping down the frontside from my pony.
If I see that he’s big and pretty and moving real good, then
tomorrow I’m going to be looking for him and the next day
I’ll be looking for him. And then I want to know his name.
I try to keep an eye on everything that goes on. Steve does that
very well, too.”
Inside the Numbers: Autrey and Asmussen’s Early Years
Autrey and Asmussen both won their first race at age 20. For Asmussen,
it was 1986 at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico; for Autrey, it was 2000
at Retama Park in San Antonio.
Asmussen grew his stable quickly, starting 147 horses in 1987.
By comparison, Autrey only had 44 starters in his first full year
of 2001. Both trainers, however, managed to build up their barns
considerably in only five years. In their respective third full
years, Asmussen won 22 races in 178 starts, while Autrey managed
nine wins from 66 starts. The Autrey stable, however, grew exponentially
in the trainer’s fourth and fifth years, while Asmussen’s
increases were more gradual.
Last year marked Autrey’s fifth full year of training. He
won 57 races from 241 starts, a 23% clip, with $1.2 million in earnings.
In Asmussen’s fifth full year, 1991, he won 35 races from
210 starts for $222,000.
By the time Lone Star Park opened, Asmussen was established as
a top trainer in the Southwest region. He finished fifth at the
track’s inaugural season with 17 wins in 1997 and never looked
back, adding considerably to his win total every year up to his
incredible record-setting season of 2002, when he saddled 95 first-place
horses from 425 starters. In Autrey’s best season at Lone
Star, last year, he finished 33 wins behind Asmussen.
Autrey said he wouldn’t even dream of ever approaching Asmussen’s
staggering overall numbers, but expects to one day have top-quality
horses on par with Asmussen’s plethora of graded stakes winners.
“The numbers that I’ve got right now I’m very
comfortable with,” Autrey said. “If we’ve got
15 or 20 to take to Keeneland we’ll go, but we’re not
going to go there until we can be competitive. You want to take
the kind of horses that will win the Grade IIs or Grade IIIs or
2-year-old races. I’ll settle for one big string in Kentucky
and one string here, because I always want to race in Texas.”
If Autrey continues to win races at anything near his current rate—55%
(six-for-11) through one week at Lone Star—it won’t
be a very long wait.
DOWN THE STRETCH: After the first week
of racing, defending riding champ Cliff Berry was atop the Lone
Star Park jockey standings with seven wins from 22 mounts. Steve
Asmussen and Cody Autrey topped the trainer standings with six wins
each. Mike Moore and the Wimp Free Racing Stables partnership each
won with both of their starters to lead all owners...Agent Ron Anderson
reports that the nation’s leading jockey, Garrett Gomez, has
accepted the call to ride trainer Doug O’Neill’s Yes
I’m a Pistol in the Grade III, $300,000 Texas Mile on April
29...Southern California-based trainer Mike Mitchell has secured
Berry to ride Texcess in the Texas Mile and 3-year-old Quest Venture
in the $75,000 Grand Prairie Turf Challenge...Entries will be taken
Thursday morning for Saturday’s featured live race, the $40,000
Littlebitlively Stakes, a five-furlong turf sprint for 3-year-olds
and up that haven’t won a stakes race this year...Two major
charitable events will coincide with live racing this week. On Thursday
in the Silks Dining Terraces, about 800 guests and celebrities will
take part in the annual “Stars of Texas...Racing Against the
Odds,” benefiting the American Diabetes Association. On Sunday,
also in Silks, “Racing for Sight” will benefit the Retina
Foundation...Friday night’s Party at the Park in the outdoor
Courtyard of Champions will feature live music by Tropix, a promotional
appearance by Live 105.3 Free FM and $1.75 Bud Lights from 7-11
p.m...Saturday is the first of six Budweiser “True Music”
Saturday Celebrations in the Courtyard. Mars Hill will perform between
live races and 100.3 Jack FM will be on hand from 12-4 p.m...Throughout
the season, seniors 62 and up will be admitted free of charge.
by Jim Mulvihill, Lone Star Park, additional reporting by Darren
Rogers, Lone Star Park