Trainer Steve Asmussen with Tapiture

Trainer Steve Asmussen with Tapiture

Rick Samuels

Review Cites Strong Safety Stats for Asmussen

Strong safety record helped Asmussen's case in KHRC investigation.

As part of its extensive investigation into the Steve Asmussen stable following allegations of horse mistreatment from an animal rights group, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission compiled safety numbers in which the Eclipse Award-winning trainer's stable fared well.

According to the KHRC, horses trained by Asmussen did not suffer a single catastrophic breakdown in 721 Kentucky starts the past four seasons (2011-14). In 1,770 starts from 2007 through 2014, not a single Asmussen-trained horse was scratched by KHRC veterinarians. (Regulatory vets observe horses on race day and on the track before the race and will scratch horses who could be at risk.) 

Those safety numbers would be featured prominently in a 27-page report compiled by KHRC staff following allegations of horse abuse against Asmussen and assistant Scott Blasi brought last year by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA alleged abuse occurred in a four-month period in 2013 at Asmussen's Churchill Downs stable based on information gathered by PETA's Kerin Rosen while working for the stable.

On Jan. 15 the KHRC cleared Asmussen and Blasi of all charges brought by PETA following the release of what the regulator determined to be a highly edited online video by the animal rights group in March 2014. PETA suggested the video showed equine abuse at the Asmussen stable in 2013 at Churchill Downs and in New York at Saratoga Race Course.

The New York State Gaming Commission continues its investigation that followed the release of the video and a complaint filed by PETA. Asmussen attorney Clark Brewster said he expects New York to release its findings soon.

Publicly available numbers from the NYSGC show Asmussen hasn't had a catastrophic breakdown in a New York race since the regulator started tracking such numbers in 2009. 

From 2011 through 2014, Asmussen started 728 horses in New York. Combining the numbers for the four years of 2011-14 in Kentucky and New York, Asmussen has started 1,449 horses without a catastrophic breakdown in a race in either state. The national average of breakdowns per race is about 1.9 per 1,000 starts.

In total, the KHRC looked at Kentucky stats for the years 2007 through 2014. In 1,770 Kentucky starts Asmussen had three fatal breakdowns, or 1.69 fatalities per 1,000 starts. Looking at those same starts, the KHRC said only one Asmussen-trained horse sustained a non-fatal injury during races.

Asmussen, who was voted Eclipse Awards as outstanding trainer in 2008 and 2009, has served some long suspensions for medication violations throughout his career. He served a six-month suspension from July 2009-January 2010 for an overage of the local anesthetic lidocaine in a 2008 race at Lone Star Park. In 2006, Asmussen served a six-month suspension after mepivacaine, a local anesthetic, was detected in the post-race test results of a losing favorite he saddled at Evangeline Downs.

But in recent years Asmussen has not committed any medication violations severe enough to carry a suspension. According to the industry website, since 2009 Asmussen has had two drug positives for which he was penalized. Both were for therapeutic medications allowed in the sport that have to be out of a horse's system on race day or at a race-day level that does not affect performance. In March 2011 the Maryland Racing Commission fined Asmussen $500 when pyrimethamine, a medication used to treat the equine neurological disease equine protozoal myeloencephalitis, was found in a horse's system on race day; and in June of that year Kentucky stewards fined Asmussen $250 for an overage of the anti-inflammatory phenylbutazone.

Furosemide (Lasix) is permitted to be administered on race day to prevent or reduce the severity of exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage. Since 2010, Asmussen has been sanctioned three times for Lasix violations. In January 2010, Asmussen paid a fine of $500 after pleading "no contest" to charges of a Lasix overage at Remington Park in Oklahoma. In July of that year, he was fined $100 for giving Lasix too close to the race. Asmussen was fined $500 in Louisiana after one of his horses at Fair Grounds had Lasix in its system above the permitted levels.

In its investigation the KHRC went beyond looking at violations and also examined therapeutic medication levels at any concentration during post-race drug tests for 2012 and 2013. High-level testing is capable of picking up minute levels of medication that would have been administered far enough before the race to be permitted. Regulatory bodies permit therapeutic medication in a horse's system on race day as long as they're at levels determined to no longer have an effect.

This research suggests Asmussen's use of permitted non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications was in line with the general population as 52.6% of his horses showed trace amounts of one NSAID and 40.4% showed trace amounts of two NSAIDs, compared with the general population's use at 49.7% for one NSAID and 37.2% for two NSAIDs.

In those same tests in 2012 and 2013, Asmussen's legal use of corticosteroids proved significantly lower than the general populatio7% compared with the 26.4% of all horses. And his horses showed trace amounts of clenbuterol, an expectorant that has been a concern because of its anabolic potential when abused, just 4.3% of the time, compared with 6.1% by the general population. The average furosemide concentration in Asmussen horses was lower than the general population.

In reviewing the data, the KHRC determined there was no statistical difference between the Asmussen horses and the general Kentucky population in its use of NSAIDs, clenbuterol, and furosemide. The KHRC said Asmussen's use of corticosteroids and methocarbamol, a muscle relxant, was substantially lower than the general population.

The report concluded with a favorable review of Asmussen's safety and medication record.

"Review of population data indicates a lower incidence of racing fatalities, race-related non-fatal conditions, and KHRC-initiated scratches in the Asmussen-trained horses when compared to the general population of Thoroughbred horses racing in Kentucky. Review of post-race testing results indicates Asmussen-trained horses carried a substantially lower medication load when compared to the general population of Thoroughbred horses racing in Kentucky."

Brewster said Asmussen wanted the regulator to see all available data during the KHRC's investigation.

"Steve said whoever they want to speak with, please facilitate that. Let them review veterinary records, inverview vets, grooms, farriers, whoever," Brewster said. "Steve was completely open and transparent about it."