03/21/2014 11:51AM

Asmussen removed from Hall of Fame ballot

Barbara D. Livingston
Steve Asmussen is being investigated for mistreatment of horses in New York and Kentucky.

The fallout over accusations of and pending investigations into mistreatment of horses by trainer Steve Asmussen began Friday, when the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame effectively removed Asmussen from the ballot for consideration to be elected into the institution.

In a statement released shortly after noon Friday, the Hall of Fame said, “Based on pending investigations by the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission into allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (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.”

Asmussen, a two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer who ranks second in career victories with 6,727 and fifth all-time in purse money won with $214,714,176, was on the ballot for the first time this year.

Asmussen, 48, and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, came under fire this week after the animal-rights group PETA announced that it had filed 10 complaints with various state and federal agencies in New York and Kentucky against Asmussen for multiple alleged violations, including animal cruelty and fraud. The animal-cruelty accusations included misuse of therapeutic medications. The fraud complaints stemmed from the employment of undocumented workers and requiring those workers to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms.

The complaints came after a four-month investigation of the Asmussen stable in which a PETA employee went undercover as an employee of Asmussen’s working for the stable at Churchill Downs and Saratoga. Accompanying PETA’s findings was a nine-minute video – edited down from seven hours of actual footage the organization claims it shot – that depicted chronic misuse of legal medications by Asmussen’s stable as well as some harsh comments from Blasi.

The video and the complaints have sparked separate investigations into Asmussen, Blasi, and at least two veterinarians – Drs. James Hunt and Joseph Migliacci – by the New York State Gaming Commission. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said it also will investigate Asmussen, Blasi, and others.

A number of Thoroughbred industry groups – including The Jockey Club, NTRA, Breeders’ Cup, and New York Racing Association – have put out statements in essence pledging their support and cooperation to the organizations that would be investigating the complaints against Asmussen.
On Friday, owner Ahmed Zayat said horses he had entered to run this weekend trained by Asmussen would be scratched.

Justin Zayat, the son of and racing manager for Ahmed Zayat, said via Twitter that his father directed him to scratch Selway from a $25,000 claiming race at Fair Grounds on Sunday and Skinny from a $40,000 claiming race at Oaklawn on Sunday.

Justin Zayat, on Twitter, wrote that his father wanted those horses scratched “pending further investigation from our side with these matters.” The Zayats were traveling Friday morning and unavailable for further comment.

One of the horses depicted in the PETA video was Nehro, the runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby for Zayat – who was seen being treated for chronic foot problems. Nehro ultimately died from colic on Kentucky Derby Day 2013. On Thursday, Zayat told Daily Racing Form that he never knew Nehro had foot problems.

Zayat said he wanted to speak with Asmussen before deciding whether to remove the horses he had with Asmussen and disperse them to other trainers.

Meanwhile, David Fiske, the racing manager for Ron Winchell, said no decision had been made whether Winchell’s horses – which include leading Kentucky Derby candidate Tapiture and leading Kentucky Oaks contender Untapable – would remain with Asmussen.

“We’ll assess the situation, do what’s best for us; not entirely sure what that is at the moment,” Fiske said. “The video and the story don’t reflect the experiences we’ve had with Steve and Scott over the last 20 years that we’ve had horses with them.”

Tapiture, the winner of the Southwest and the runner-up to Hoppertunity in the Rebel, is slated to make his next start in the $1 million Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 12. Untapable, the 9 1/2-length winner of the Rachel Alexandra Stakes on Feb. 22, is scheduled to make her next start in the Grade 2, $400,000 Fair Grounds Oaks at Fair Grounds on March  29.