Cash Asmussen's longing to return home lies deep and undisturbed. He's content to grasp fragments of Americana in the accustomed sporadic way, crossing the Atlantic for brief visits and often leaving much richer.
So it transpired yesterday at Laurel Race Course, where the South Dakota-born, Texas-raised French resident came, in essence, for 3 1/2 minutes of race-riding. It was time well spent. Asmussen won both $300,000 races on the first day of the International Turf Festival in hard-driving style, directing Tycoon's Drama in the Selima Stakes and River Traffic in the Laurel Futurity.
It's been eight years since Asmussen left New York, after two seasons as leading rider, to broaden his perspective and ride for noted French trainer Francois Boutin. He regrets nothing.
"It's always good to come back; there's no feeling like it," said Asmussen, 28. "But I can't say I'm planning to change anything."
Asmussen's sense of country sprang from each step late yesterday afternoon. By 6 p.m. he was hustling to the jockeys' room, pressed to catch the flight that seems forever looming.
He could have ridden in the Turf Festival that continues today with three more races of at least $250,000, but the timing wasn't right. He has a 12-victory lead in the French riding championship that concludes Dec. 8, he said, and isn't willing to let a fifth title slip away.
He said the adjustment to the counterclockwise flow at North American tracks has become commonplace, and is more a task for horse than rider. That wasn't so with River Traffic, the Futurity winner having been taught to run in Texas by Asmussen's father.
"He knew how to handle the sharp left-hand turns," Asmussen said. "There was nothing to worry about. When you look at the whole thing and go back to the beginning, it becomes a pretty nice family story."
His two winners had to circle and rally through the stretch, but each was up to it. Tycoon's Drama wore down U.S. long shot Irish Linnet to win by a half-length; River's Traffic, with a final thrust, pushed a neck past Fourstars Allstar, also from the United States.
In 1987, the first year of the Turf Festival, Asmussen came to Laurel for the day and nearly swept both 2-year-old races. Antigua won the Futurity and Seattle Sangue finished second in the Selima.
"It's great being back, there's no doubt about it," he said. "But I also like moving about; even with all the traveling, it keeps me fresh. . . . It's like riding a bicycle; you never forget how to do it. And as long as the bike goes fast, I'm happy."