Racing: Cash in credit with an economical style: The financial rewards are carefully collected but money alone is not enough to keep Asmussen in the saddle. Richard Edmondson reports

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THE CONVERSATION with Cash Asmussen is over but everyone else has a question for the interviewer. How much did you pay him?

Nothing is the answer, but in the simplistic, one-adjective vernacular of the racecourse Piggott is taciturn, Carson and Dettori are bubbly and Asmussen, more than any other jockey, is reckoned to be avaricious.

There are some riders in Europe who are about as alive to their worth as the thoroughbreds beneath them, men whose financial aspirations stretch little further than a hand of poker in the weighing room. Cash Asmussen, who goes for a slice of IR pounds 600,000 on Hernando in Sunday's Irish Derby at The Curragh, is not among them.

'He's Cash by name, and Cash by nature, that's him,' John Hammond, who trained Suave Dancer to win the Prix du Jockey Club (French Derby) and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe under Asmussen, said. 'He's probably the only jockey I've ever known who would have made himself a millionaire if he hadn't been a jockey.' (Cash, however, has only been Cash since 1977, when he changed his name, perhaps prophetically, from Brian).

Asmussen is from a land, probably above all others, where money means status and is hardly fazed by his racecourse reputation for interest in greenbacks. 'I wouldn't be an American if I wasn't,' says the man now based in Chantilly. 'All I can say is that anyone who says they don't like money to compensate them for what they do is wrong. That's not me.'

This financial angle is never far away. Why has Asmussen ridden in France for much of the time since he came to Europe in 1982? 'I'd have to say probably the same thing that appeals to the owners who are now racing their horses in France instead of other places in Europe. The prize- money.' And how does he relax? 'I read about the world economy.

'Some of the people I work for affect the world economy. The Sheikhs (Maktoums) with the oil, (Stavros) Niarchos and the shippers, (Daniel) Wildenstein, who is maybe the greatest art collector in the world, and the Aga Khan, who leads millions of people. They ask me about horses, I ask them about their business.'

The jockey admits he enjoys collecting the fruits, but rails at suggestions that he is not big on turnover. 'They say that not only am I big on money but No 2 that I'm tight,' he says. 'Well none of them can have come and had drinks with me because I was raised to be the last one to leave work and the first one to buy the beer.'

This Little House On The Prairie code of ethics and snapshots of his upbringing in Texas punctuate conversation. 'I come from a farming family which is a very tight unit,' he says. 'We've always worked as a team and when one can't carry the others help.

'The way I was raised, at dinnertime we sat there and ate a proper meal and the boys didn't leave the table until they were excused.'

If Asmussen has sold himself well, he has had the advantage of hawking a good product. There are few that doubt that when his wind tunnel- tested technique is spread over a horse, one of the world's top practitioners is at work.

Certainly not the great trainers Vincent O'Brien, Francois Boutin and Andre Fabre, who have all enjoyed successful, if transient, relationships with the 31-year-old. Fabre may have been speaking for many who have dealt with the riding nomad when he said: 'Some marriages are not made for a lifetime.'

Asmussen, though, insists the love of his life is the raw elation of communicating with a racehorse. 'The greatest satisfaction for me is knowing I can do something with a horse that just any man can't,' he says. 'You can't buy that and you don't do that for money. I love to know what makes a horse tick and the biggest thrill for me is to know what a horse is thinking and respond before he does it.

'When Hernando was in the stalls in the French Derby he took a deep breath because he was really ready to fire. The only thing I needed to do was have him wait a mile and a quarter before he fired.

'When I stood off of him at the stalls and that big old white eye was rolling back and looking at me you can't tell me that I was counting the 2.5m francs ( pounds 300,000) that he won. He needed someone to take hold of him and say, hey, take a hold of yourself this is going to be all right, and that was what I did.'

Asmussen, like most American sportsmen, embraces a Barnum & Bailey attitude to his calling. As he bounced out of the weighing room at Royal Ascot last week, his progress to the paddock was interrupted by several asides to the crowd. 'This game needs to be a spectator sport, we need to bring people to the races and that's why Cash Asmussen talks,' he says.

As he emerged at end of play, he looked a man from another profession. The American wore a well-cut suit, a Mackintosh over one arm, and carried a briefcase. The gust of air he brought with him bore expensive fragrance.

Asmussen's striking brown eyes are still keen, and grey flecks have only just come to his hair, but a retirement plan has already germinated in his brain and he is unlikely to be riding by the time of the millenium. He will almost certainly move into breeding then, though talk of his financial policies as a rider will probably follow him to the grave. He would rather have that, however, than silence when the coffin lid is screwed down.

'I can't answer back to what people say, but I'm happy to have any publicity rather than no publicity,' he says. 'The day people aren't talking about me is the day I'm not there any more.'

(Photograph omitted)

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