A few years ago, Cash Asmussen was one of the nation's brightest young jockeys. At 17, he led the challenging New York circuit with 231 victories in 1979, then with 246 in 1980. He guided 100-to-1 shot King Celebrity to a fourth-place finish in the 1979 Kentucky Derby and rode Wayward Lass to two-thirds of the New York filly triple crown in '81.

Then, with his career in full flight, Asmussen changed tack. He left the country.

In 1982, the South Dakota-born Texas native signed a contract to ride in Europe for trainer Francois Boutin. The contract expired, but Asmussen remained in Europe, shuffling between London, Paris and Dublin.

"When I was presented the chance to go there," Asmussen said, "I thought it over and over, and it still wasn't easy. But it was a good stable, it was when I was young and single and had a chance to ride some of the best horses in the world. Not that I wasn't, but it was a different country and different circumstances, and I thought it would make a better rider out of me."

Asmussen wasn't astride Europe's finest yesterday, but he climbed aboard two horses who figured prominently at Laurel. He rode Antiqua to a 1 1/2-length victory over Pimlico-based Mister Modesty in the Laurel Futurity and Seattle Sangue to a strong second-place finish in the Selima Stakes.

The two Grade I races were on grass for the first time, drawing five horses from Europe and jockeys Asmussen, Freddie Head and Tony Cruz.

"Changing these races to turf was a great idea," Asmussen said even before his victory. "Right now, European horses have an edge on it because the numbers simply aren't there for American grass runners. Eventually, as more 2-year-olds race on grass here, the gap will decrease. And besides, it's great coming back to the States."

Asmussen said he adapted quickly to European racing. "They go in a different direction, and up and down {hills}," he said, "but that was easy to get accustomed to." Yesterday, he had no problem changing back.

His second-place ride in the Selima was as impressive as his victory. Seattle Sangue, daughter of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, was favored at 8 to 5 in the Selima despite being winless in three starts. But she appeared jittery during the post parade, and Asmussen knew she'd be tough to handle, so he restrained her out of the gate.

"She has a lot of speed," Asmussen said, "but because she was so keyed up, I wanted to try to get her to relax."

He succeeded. As front-running Bodacious Tatas tired, approaching the turn, Asmussen sent Seattle Sangue rallying between rivals. She shot to a two-length lead into the stretch, where Minstrel's Lassie eventually ran her down.

"Once she got to running," Asmussen said, "she was just kind of floating."

Less than a half-hour later, Brian Keith Asmussen was rushing to the airport. His father had given him the nickname Cash so that "even if I were broke, I'd always have 'cash'."

Yesterday's take totaled $20,000.