Updated on 07/12/2012 4:39PM

Asmussen family mares found at slaughter auction

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The prominent Texas-based Asmussen racing family is facing public questions this week after 10 Thoroughbred broodmares with links to the Asmussen operation were found at a Texas horse auction that horse welfare advocates say is frequented by buyers for Mexican slaughterhouses.

Keith Asmussen,  who operates the Asmussen Horse Center and El Primero Training Center in Laredo, Tex., said Thursday that he was unaware that slaughter buyers attend the Round Mountain horse auction in Marble Falls, Tex. Asmussen did not attend the auction in person but said he sent one of his horse vans to the sale, which also features riding horses.

“I don’t know where all of this started or what caused it,” Asmussen, 71, the father of leading trainer Steve Asmussen, said. “I sent the mares with their registration papers to be sold. I didn’t even know there were any slaughterhouses left. I thought by law they were all closed down. If I was supposed to know about the slaughterhouses in Mexico, I definitely would not have hauled mares 200 miles up the road with their registration papers if I knew about the Mexican slaughterhouse, especially when I live right on the border.”

After a tip-off that the mares had been dropped off by an Asmussen trailer and were to go through the ring without riders, horse welfare advocate Deborah Jones hastily arranged to bid for the mares via telephone on behalf of Texas Thoroughbred owner John Murrell. Bidding for Murrell, Jones outbid kill buyers for seven of the mares and privately bought two more, 13-year-old Ethel is Best and 14-year-old Karitsas Punch, from the kill buyers for their original purchase price plus $100. The other mares that Murrell bought were 20-year-old Valid Obsession, a full sister to top 10 Texas sires Valid Expectations and Littleexpectations and dam of Texas stakes-placed Valid Heart; 20-year-old Endless Storm, dam of two-time track-record setter Endofthestorm; 15-year-old Adios La Cucaracha, a Storm Cat mare; Empress Jones, an 8-year-old Seneca Jones mare; Rhododendron, a 7-year-old Mutakddim mare; 12-year-old Our Revival, by Ide; and 17-year-old Luxury of Time, a Seattle Slew mare.

Jones said the remaining mare, the 15-year-old Lear Fan mare Fans Galore, sold to a buyer who is not involved in the slaughter trade. Murrell paid a total of $4,480 for the nine mares, including tax and a credit card fee, and all are now in the care of Donna Keen of Remember Me Racehorse Rescue, a 501(c)(3) in Burleson, Tex.

Luxury of Time, a one-time Golden Eagle Farm mare bred by Mrs. and Mrs. John Mabee, was owned by Steve Asmussen when she foaled her most recently registered foal, a 2011 Intimidator colt. Intimidator stood at the Asmussen family’s Asmussen Horse Center for a $1,500 fee this year. Steve Asmussen could not be reached for comment Thursday. Asmussen trains My Miss Aurelia, the reigning juvenile filly champion, and races horses throughout much of the nation.

Many of the mares had been bred this year to Intimidator, but Keen said Thursday that Remember Me did not yet know whether any of the mares were in foal.

“All the horses are doing really good,” Keen said. “We have one that’s just a little thin, but the rest of them look just like Asmussen horses: really well taken care of. I don’t have any beef in the way the horses looked. They all looked great. Luxury of Time and Valid Obsession are both going back to people who had them in the past and wanted the mares back, and we’ve had some contact with people on the other mares, as well, that may offer to give them homes.

“This wasn’t a sneaky, underhanded action,” Keen added of the mares’ arrival at Round Mountain. “I don’t know what’s going on, but [Keith Asmussen’s wife] Marilyn is a super-nice person and I’ve always thought a lot of Keith, and I’m sure not going to run them into the ground, because I don’t know what’s going on. I’m not going to jump to conclusions.”

The Round Mountain auction also is a local source of riding horses.

“My granddaughter does pony rides for birthday parties, and she’s always bringing one or two or three home from up there to use for her birthday parties,” Keith Asmussen said. “In fact, she bought a mare up there who’s turning out to be a pretty darn nice barrel-racing mare.”

Equine advocates and rescue groups say that horses ridden through the auction are far more likely to find homes as pleasure or working stock, but horses sold “loose,” or unridden, at the end of the auction often are fodder for Mexican slaughterhouses.

“They tell me that’s a recognized slaughter sale, but I didn’t know anything about that,” Asmussen added. “I’ve been in the horse business my whole life. So was my dad, my grandfather, and his father before him. I hope whoever started all this is happy if they wanted to cause trouble, because they sure did. . . . These are accusations that are not even close to being true.”