At an elegant Chantilly stable that might have inspired Degas, Andr� Fabre trains some 200 of Europe's finest thoroughbreds and keeps Asmussen on retainer to ride them. The combined force of France's top trainer and top jockey has been felt all across Europe, though the going hasn't always been smooth. Both men are known to be fiercely independent, and rumors circulate at the end of every season that their gentleman's agreement is about to end. The agreement gives Fabre "first call"; that is, Asmussen can ride for other trainers if he isn't needed by the Frenchman.
Asmussen enjoys a shorter season than he would have in the U.S. While his colleagues back home ride year-round, Asmussen is off from mid-November to March and can often be found observing thoroughbred sales at Keeneland in Kentucky or at Newmarket during his free months.
Asmussen's qualities were quickly appreciated by the French. He surprised the turfistes with how rapidly he adapted to European tracks, which come in all shapes and sizes: long straightaways that run uphill or down, ovals that run clockwise or counterclockwise. Each track has a unique character. American racecourses, by comparison, are relatively uniform and predictable. The sharpness of the turns or the distance may vary, but American tracks run counterclockwise and are level dirt ovals.
"It is very different here, but Cash showed both a tactical skill and a sense of pace. He knows how and where to place a horse," says Louis Romanet, the director-general of the French jockey club. "He has a clock in his head that is unsurpassed."
Although Asmussen has earned the respect of owners, trainers and jockeys, he has not always won their hearts. Australian jockey Gary Moore charged Asmussen with kicking him during a confrontation in the weighing room at France's St. Cloud racetrack last year. Asmussen denied he ever laid a toe on Moore. About 80 people were in the small room at the time, but during an investigation by stewards, not one admitted witnessing the incident. The case was dismissed.
"He is taciturn, serious, formal and known as a money grabber, someone whose only interest is making money," said one British racing official, who asked not to be named. "He's not the kind of fellow you would invite out to the pub."
Asmussen also faces some resentment from people who don't like to see a foreigner continually beating the local boys. But in the only year he spent concentrating on racing outside France, it was not his winning that got him into trouble with the fans.
Nobody loves racing like the Irish, and no man is as revered in Irish racing as trainer Vincent O'Brien, who retained Asmussen in 1987. "The Irish press billed me as the best rider in France coming to ride for the best trainer in Ireland, and they expected us to hang the moon," Asmussen recalls. "I let them think that, because of the way I spoke to the papers. I started in a typically American manner, giving myself a big buildup and being too outspoken. So I have no one to blame but myself for what happened."
The Irish crowds booed him at the starting gate. They cursed him at the finish. They chanted, "Yankee go home," while newspapers chimed in with headlines like ASMUSSEN BLOWS ANOTHER ONE. Still, by the end of the season, Asmussen had 62 wins in Ireland, second only to Michael Kinane that year. And many observers now concede that O'Brien might not have had spectacular horses for Asmussen to ride.
There are several important European races Asmussen has yet to win—the Epsom Derby, the English 2,000 Guineas, the Prix du Jockey Club (the French derby) and the elusive Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe, which will be run this year on Oct. 7—but he hopes to win them all before he quits in five to seven years.