By Esther Marr and Ron Mitchell
Ten broodmares at a Texas livestock auction frequented by kill buyers were shipped there by Keith Asmussen's Asmussen Horse Center July 7.
Nine of the mares—two of which are by top sires Storm Cat and Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew—were purchased by a Thoroughbred aftercare activist and are now under the care of Donna Keen's Remember Me Rescue. Located 50 miles west of Austin, Texas, the Round Mountain sale is allegedly attended by many buyers that ship their purchases to Mexico to be slaughtered for human consumption.
"I know (the Asmussens) are good people, so I can't tell you what's going through their minds; I think they just made a terrible mistake or misjudgment," said Keen, whose farm is located near Burleson, Texas. "I'm not going pass judgment on them because I haven't heard their side of the story. My job is to take the horses and place them, and that's what I'm going to do."
The Asmussen mares were discovered by a contact associated with Deborah Jones, a Southern California resident who manages a network of volunteers across the United States that search for Thoroughbreds at auctions frequented by kill buyers.
"Deborah Jones' spotters actually saw the Asmussen horse van pull up," Keen said. "She doesn't want to reveal their names because then they would get run off from the sales, and these mares wouldn't have been found."
Jones bought nine of the mares for a total of $4,355 on behalf of John R. Murrell, a Texas Thoroughbred owner and former board member of the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, and the 10th mare was purchased privately by another individual.
The rescue of the horses was first reported by The Paulick Report.
A former Quarter Horse jockey, Keith Asmussen is the father of one-prominent jockey Cash Asmussen, now retired, and Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen. When reached by The Blood-Horse July 12, Keith Asmussen claimed he wasn't aware the Round Mountain sale was frequented by killer buyers.
"My granddaughters buy ponies and other horses up there all the time," Asmussen said. "I wouldn't have spent $100 a head to haul them to Round Mountain if I was planning on them going to the killers since I live right on the border (of Mexico). And I damn sure wouldn't have been sending registration papers with them if I thought they were going to slaughter.
"As far as I am concerned (this was a legitimate horse sale), and I had no idea about the killer buyers until (horse rescue activists) started writing me letters."
Five of the mares are being boarded at Keen's farm, while the other four are boarded at a facility close to the Round Mountain sale grounds.
"We're going to keep them there for two weeks before we place them with foster homes or adopt them," Keen said. "I want to make sure they're quarantined well, and they didn't pick up strangles or any of that other stuff that goes around at the horse sales."
Keen reported all the mares are in good condition with the exception of one that is slightly thin. The horses will be checked the weekend of July 14 to see how many are in foal.
Jones identified the mares, along with the stallions to which they had been bred, with The Jockey Club. The mares are as follows:
—Valid Obsession, a 20-year-old daughter of Valid Appeal and a full sister to sires Valid Expectations and Littleexpectations. She is reported to have a 2012 foal by Asmussen Horse Center stallion Intimidator and was bred back to that stallion for 2013.
—Luxury of Time, a 17-year-old daughter of Seattle Slew. She was bred to Intimidator for 2013.
—Adios La Cucaracha, a 15-year-old daughter of Storm Cat with a 2012 foal by Intimidator and bred to Intimidator for 2013.
—Rhododendron, a 7-year-old daughter of Mutakddim. She has a 2012 foal by Seneca Jones and was bred to Intimidator for 2013.
—Our Revival, a 12-year-old daughter of Ide with a 2012 foal by Heckle and bred to Asmussen Horse Center stallion Primal Storm for 2013.
—Endless Storm, a 20-year-old daughter of Storm Bird with a 2012 foal by Intimidator and bred to Intimidator for 2013.
—Ethel Is Best, a 13-year-old daughter of Woodman. She was bred to Intimidator for 2013.
—Karitsas Punch, a 14-year-old daughter of Two Punch. She was bred to Asmussen Horse Center stallion Littleexpectations for 2013.
—Fans Galore, a 15-year-old daughter of Lear Fan. She was bred to Primal Storm for 2013.
—Empress Jones, an 8-year-old daughter of Seneca Jones with a 2012 foal by Heckle and bred to Intimidator for 2013.
The Mabee family’s Golden Eagle Farm near Ramona, Calif., posted the following statement on its Facebook page after learning that Luxury of Time was one of the mares that had ended up at Remember Me:
“We have offered to pick up the mare in Texas and bring her to our farm in California to retire, and we have also offered to send tack, blankets, and anything to help to Texas if they don't want us to take her back.
“We sold this mare years ago and just devastated of where she ended up. Why nobody called us before sending her to the kill lot is beyond me. Golden Eagle does everything to be responsible breeders and have many retired mares and geldings on the farm. It’s sad to me that we are blamed for other irresponsible owners and breeders. However, we will continue to do the right thing and hope next time, someone calls us first.”
Golden Eagle later reported that it had made arrangements with Keen to ship Luxury of Time to the California operation in the next few weeks.
"This is about the horses," Keen said. "I offered to take them before I knew if they came from a backyard breeder or the Asmussens. That's not important to me; the horses are. We've got to step up and take care of our own. We're blessed enough to have a farm to do it and a support team that helps."