Stellar Tap will go down in history for giving Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen his North American record-breaking 9,446th win. But we’re likely to keep hearing a lot more from the Tapit juvenile, whose memorable victory came in his career debut on Whitney Day at Saratoga.
Jockey Ricardo Santana later told NYRA publicity how much he expected from Stellar Tap in Saturday’s 5TH race:
“I was really happy with that baby. I went by the barn this morning, and I told Steve how much I liked the horse. He was working crazy good.”
Dispatched as a 5.50-1 shot, Stellar Tap broke sharply and vied with 1.35-1 favorite Brigadier General through an opening quarter in :22.46. Stellar Tap headed him by the half in :45.35 and spurted clear into the stretch. The gray left no suspense for Asmussen and his family, watching from the stands, as he increased his margin to 5 1/4 lengths.
“I’m very grateful to be the one who helped him break the record,” Santana said. “He’s a part of the family. He took me in since I was a little kid and he’s really shown me a lot of support throughout my career.”
Stellar Tap completed seven furlongs in 1:23.82 in a most promising performance. The Moyglare Stud-bred, who sold for $250,000 as a yearling at Keeneland September, is entitled to improve with maturity and added distance.
Campaigned by L and N Racing and Winchell Thoroughbreds, Stellar Tap is out of the Medaglia d’Oro mare Gioia Stella. His dam is a half-sister to a pair of Grade 1 turfistes, 2011 American Oaks (G1) heroine Nereid and Sea Queen, runner-up in the 2014 Belmont Oaks (G1).
On Saturday, though, the focus was rightly on his trainer. Asmussen entered the day tied with the late Dale Baird at 9,445 wins. He scored with both of his Friday runners, Jalen Journey in the 4TH at Saratoga and Shanghai’s Dream in the 6TH at Ellis Park. His first entrant on Saturday, Under the Gun, was scratched from the Spa’s opener, and the anticipation was palpable as Stellar Tap stepped up to the plate.
Asmussen was welcomed into the Saratoga winner’s circle and presented with mementoes of his achievement.
“To be surrounded by people you love and who love you, and you have a common goal – it’s impossible to put into words what horse racing means to me and my whole family and to all the employees,” the horseman said. “They’re family and they know so and are treated as such.”
Asmussen also commented on why Stellar Tap was a particular fitting horse to put him over the top. His Winchell co-owners have a longstanding relationship with Asmussen and his parents, Keith and Marilyn, who are the proprietors of El Primero Training Center in Texas. They broke Tapit for the Winchells, and Stellar Tap is a graduate of their academy as well.
“How fitting to do this with a two-year-old owned by the Winchells and who came through Mom and Dad’s farm in Laredo and on Whitney Day. I was definitely blessed,” Asmussen said.
“I’m very proud of where I came from and don’t ever want to forget it. It makes you who you are. I love to be able to share this with my parents.”