SARATOGA SPRINGS — How many people can exclaim “Immortality, baby!” at Saratoga Race Course and not sound like a blowhard bettor with an inflated opinion of the chalky dime superfecta they just hit?
Steve Asmussen pulled it off on Saturday, and it didn’t sound absurd at all.
The Hall of Fame trainer has had his share of Saratoga moments, including becoming the all-time leader in career victories in North America at last year’s meet.
Jackie’s Warrior had been responsible for four such memorable moments for Asmussen and his barn, and made it five on Saturday when he won the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt in such comfortably dominating fashion that veteran jockey Joel Rosario may have had the easiest assignment of his career.
With the win, Jackie’s Warrior became the first horse ever to win Grade I races in three consecutive seasons at Saratoga, where they’ve been racing since 1863.
Asmussen addressed the media in the winner’s circle after the race, then walked into the ground floor of the clubhouse and greeted his wife Julie with a jubilant “Immortality, baby!”
“Unbelievably relieved,” Asmussen said. “When we were made aware that, if he wins today, he’s the only horse ever to win a Grade I three years in a row at Saratoga … Saratoga … the great racehorses that have run here, and he’s the only one to have ever done it. I can’t tell you how much I wanted that for him and proud of it. And Jackie’s Warrior’s done it.”
Jackie’s Warrior, a son of Maclean’s Music owned by Kirk and Judy Robison of El Paso, Texas, improved to 5-for-5 at Saratoga, all in graded stakes.
He won the Grade II Saratoga Special and Grade I Hopeful as a 2-year-old in 2020 and the Grade II Amsterdam and Grade I Allen Jerkens last year.
There was barely anyone around to watch him in 2020, when fans were barred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But on Saturday the bay colt with the narrow, meandering blaze on his nose that flows past his left nostril all the way to his upper lip was serenaded with repeated “Jackie!” shouts from fans around the winner’s circle.
As confident as anyone should be in Jackie’s Warrior – the betting public sent him off at odds of 1-5 — Asmussen knows anything can happen in racing, and was feeling the weight of the historic achievement that was at stake.
“All kinds of jitters,” he said. “Beyond belief. I wanted this more than you’re supposed to want things. Just, immortality, horse racing, a record like that. We owe everything we have to these horses, and then one comes along as special as him, and you go through the crowd and hear all the fans that he has. He is held in a room of one.”
Jackie’s Warrior pushed his record to 12-1-1 from 16 starts for purse earnings of over $2.65 million. Rosario has been on his back for every start except for Jackie’s Warrior’s career debut at Churchill Downs in June of 2020.
“It was all him,” Rosario said. “He’s a special horse. They don’t come like that every day.”
“He’s the whole package,” Asmussen said. “He’s a tremendous amount of ability and confidence in himself and a gameday horse.”
Oh, the race itself?
Long shot Doc Amster set the pace out of the starting gate in the six-furlong A.G. Vanderbilt, and whatever subtle hand movement Rosario needed to get Jackie’s Warrior a few paths to the outside as they headed into the clubhouse turn was pretty much the only time the jockey may have broken his statue pose.
Jackie’s Warrior accelerated on his own as they got into the stretch and cruised home to win by an unthreatening two lengths over another long shot, Kneedeepinsnow.
“It looked like that horse wanted the lead for a little bit, I took him outside and he looked like he didn’t mind that,” Rosario said. “We got on the turn, he wanted to go do his thing and he did.
“Yeah, he just loves to run.”
““I mean, there was no beating Jackie’s Warrior, but at least he [Kneedeepinsnow] closed and came running, and he looked good on the gallop-out,” trainer Matt Shirer said.
Now it’s on to the Grade I Forego on Travers Day Aug. 27, and the only other start Jackie’s Warrior has on his schedule before being retired to stud is a return to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November.
“I’m just so proud for him and the whole team, [assistant trainer] Scott [Blasi] and Joel and [exercise rider] Wilson [Fabian], who’s been on him forever,” Asmussen said. “You can’t imagine how much this horse means to the barn.
“We follow him.”