07/15/2009 11:00PM

Asmussen suspended for six months

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Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Steve Asmussen's attorney said he has filed an appeal and asked for a stay of the penalty.

GRAND PRAIRIE, Texas - The Lone Star Park board of stewards on Thursday suspended trainer Steve Asmussen six months and fined him $1,500 for a 2008 positive test for a lidocaine metabolite in a horse he trains.

Maggi Moss, an attorney who represents Asmussen, the leading trainer in North America, said on Thursday an appeal has been filed with the Texas Racing Commission. Later in the day, a stay of Asmussen's suspension was granted by Charla Ann King, the executive director of the racing commission.

Asmussen, the 2008 Eclipse Award winner as leading trainer, trains Rachel Alexandra, who defeated males in the Preakness Stakes and is a leading contender for 2009 Horse of the Year. He also trained Curlin, the 2007-08 Horse of the Year, and in 2008 set the record for most wins in a year by a trainer, 622.

Moss said she was disheartened with the ruling.

"I think as both a lawyer and a horsewoman that I have always believed that the truth through fairness always comes out," she said. "It is clear that everyone who participated or sat through this hearing believes Steve is innocent of this and that therefore makes it very sad for him and for racing in general."

Texas has a zero-tolerance policy on the local anesthetic lidocaine, which is a Class 2 medication violation. It carries a penalty range of a six-month to one-year suspension, and a fine of $1,500 to $2,500.

Asmussen's suspension had been scheduled to run from July 20, 2009 to Jan. 15, 2010.

Jean Cook, a spokesperson for the Texas Racing Commission, said that all stewards' rulings that are appealed are sent to the state office of administrative hearings. There, a hearing is held, an opinion is rendered, and that opinion then goes before the racing commission, which then can either affirm, reverse, or modify an administrator's ruling.

"The mission of the Texas Racing Commission is to ensure the safety, integrity, and fairness of pari-mutuel racing," King, the commission's executive director, said in a statement to Daily Racing Form.

"The commission makes every effort to ensure that race participants have a safe and level playing field. This is critical not only to the jockeys, the racehorses, the trainers, the owners, but also to the wagering public.

"We have confidence in our drug testing program and in the stewards' decision, which came from a panel that collectively has 41 years of experience. We look forward to the next step in the process when we present the case to the administrative law judge and Mr. Asmussen takes the opportunity to be heard at the appeal level."

The ruling comes some 14 months after Timber Trick, the filly in question, won a maiden special weight race for owner Gainesway Farm at Lone Star on May 10, 2008. The initial stewards' hearing was set for July 18, 2008, but a series of delays ensued until the case culminated with a hearing on July 7, 2009 that lasted nearly eight hours.

Asmussen was granted a continuance on the first hearing date as his legal team sought to obtain a blood sample and additional split-sample test data in advance of any hearing before the stewards. They filed a motion to that effect in district court in Austin last summer. The motion came before the court in October, and the judge ultimately ruled that she had no jurisdiction in the matter because the case was still pending at the commission level.

Last week, the quest to obtain test data in the case resumed at the hearing, with the first part of the two-session hearing opening with Asmussen's legal team of Maggi Moss and Karen Murphy asking for quantitative data on both the original and split-test urine sample, additional split-sample test data, and testing of the blood sample from Timber Trick.

The stewards deliberated on arguments presented by both Asmussen's legal team and the commission's attorney, Mark Fenner, and ultimately denied the request. Commission officials said following the hearing that there is no quantitative data on the samples in the case because there are no acceptable levels of lidocaine in Texas. In addition, officials said, urine testing is the only testing the commission requires for the presence of lidocaine and its metabolites.

Asmussen testified during his hearing that he did not administer lidocaine to Timber Trick. He also answered questions about raceday protocol in his stable.

"I know that I didn't do this," he said. "And I strongly believe that you know how important it is to avoid having something like this happen, because you do not want to be in this sort of trouble over a 3-year-old maiden when you have access to the Curlins and Rachel Alexandras of the world, which I have. And this sort of trouble jeopardizes that."

Timber Trick was disqualified from her win per the ruling issued on Thursday.

Asmussen, 43, has drawn one other six-month suspension during his training career, for a mepivacaine positive in Louisiana in 2006. A local anesthetic, it was a Class 2 violation.