Racing Hall removes trainer Asmussen from ballot

awincze@herald-leader.comMarch 21, 2014 

Amid allegations of mistreatment lodged by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against trainer Steve Asmussen, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame announced Friday it is removing the Eclipse Award-winner from its list of finalists for induction this year.

"Based on pending investigations by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission into allegations made by PETA and reported by various media outlets, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame has decided it is in the best interests of the institution and the sport of Thoroughbred racing in general to table the 2014 Hall of Fame nomination of trainer Steve Asmussen," the statement read.

A note to voters added that any votes already cast in support of Asmussen will not be counted in the 2014 election process.

Asmussen was named a finalist for Hall of Fame induction for the first time this year. In his absence, trainer Gary Jones, jockeys Chris Antley, Garrett Gomez, Craig Perret, and Alex Solis and Thoroughbreds Ashado, Curlin, Kona Gold, and Xtra Heat make up the list of remaining finalists.

Asmussen, who conditioned Curlin to back-to-back Horse of the Year titles in 2007 and 2008, was the subject of a New York Times article published this week that details the findings of an undercover investigator for PETA who worked in his barn for four months last spring and summer. Among the complaints filed by PETA in the wake of the investigator's findings were allegations of severe mistreatment of horses in his care as well as the employment of undocumented workers.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and New York Gaming Commission both announced Thursday they were launching investigations into the claims.

A nine-minute, 30-second video PETA posted on its website regarding its findings focused heavily on the treatment of Nehro, runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Nehro, who died of colic on the morning of the 2013 Kentucky Derby. Nehro was shown being treated for severe foot problems. The video featured several callous remarks from Asmussen's top assistant trainer, Scott Blasi.

Ahmed Zayat, whose Zayat Stables owned Nehro, had his son Justin post on Twitter on Friday morning that they were scratching all Zayat-owned horses under Asmussen's care that were entered to run this weekend "pending further investigation from our side with these matters."

When reached Friday afternoon, David Fiske, racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds — one of Asmussen's longstanding owners — said no decision had been made about how the allegations would affect their operation.

"We're just keeping track of ongoing developments, we'll keep assessing the situation," Fiske said. "We'll make decisions that are in our best interests."

Winchell Thoroughbreds owns leading Kentucky Derby contender Tapiture and top Kentucky Oaks hopeful Untapable, both of which are trained by Asmussen.

"Not at the moment," Fiske responded when asked if the PETA claims would affect Tapiture or their other horses remaining in Asmussen's care. "But if there are any other revelations ... we'll just let the facts come out and go from there."

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: Twitter: @horseracinghl.

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