01/08/2015 12:04PM

Crist: Asmussen's Hall ban still doesn't hold up

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Last Tuesday, two Halls of Fame were in the news. Their approaches to the issue of determining candidates’ worthiness for enshrinement could not have been more different.

The Baseball Hall of Fame announced the election of four new members – Craig Biggio, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, and John Smoltz – each of whom met the requirement of being named on at least 75 percent of the ballots. Among those who missed the cut were Roger Clemens (37.5 percent) and Barry Bonds (36.8 percent).

The same day, racing’s Hall of Fame began its process for the class of 2015 with an instruction to its nominating committee (of which I am a member) that Steve Asmussen’s candidacy would be “tabled” for a second straight year and that voters could not select him.

No rational person can argue that Bonds and Clemens, on their achievements, are not automatic Hall inductees. The reason they have fallen far short of election is because of varying degrees of skepticism whether those achievements were accomplished with the help of performance-enhancing drugs during baseball’s steroid era.

Similarly, Asmussen is a no-brainer on the merits. He is the second-leading trainer in victories in American racing history, fourth in all-time earnings, and he trained Curlin and Rachel Alexandra to three Horse of the Year titles from 2008-10. No one has alleged that these achievements were achieved through any improper use of drugs.

The Hall’s executive committee, however, tabled Asmussen’s nomination last year when a sensationalistic article and secretly recorded video, publicized by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and The New York Times, showed one of Asmussen’s assistants saying unsavory and insensitive things about the care and training of horses.

Many in the racing community severely overreacted to a video that was long on cuss words and short on substance. In addition to the Hall executive committee’s rash decision to remove Asmussen from the ballot, other racing officials suggested he be barred from attending the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, which he won with Untapable. Two states, New York and Kentucky, felt obliged to mollify PETA and The Times by opening inquiries into whether there had been any wrongdoing.

These “investigations” are still open, but nine months later, not a single charge has been filed. Asmussen is in good standing in every racing jurisdiction in the country, including the two that are investigating the video. The assistant, Scott Blasi, was briefly dismissed but then rehired last July. As Jay Privman reported in Daily Racing Form late last year, Asmussen’s horses made more than 1,300 starts in North America in 2014, and his lone violation was a $200 fine for a minor horseshoeing problem in one race at Fair Grounds.

The crucial difference between these two Halls of Fame is that one trusts its voters, and the other doesn’t. Baseball has never decreed that Bonds or Clemens are ineligible for its Hall or deprived its electorate of the opportunity to vote for them.

Racing should have done the same thing. If its voters are sufficiently troubled by the so-called allegations against Asmussen, flimsy as they are, they can choose not to vote for him – just as a majority of the baseball writers have chosen not to vote for Bonds and Clemens in each of their three years of eligibility.

Racing’s Hall officials painted themselves into a corner with the improper decision a year ago to remove Asmussen from the ballot. Having said that he could not be considered for enshrinement because of the PETA video, they now feel that they cannot rescind the ban until the investigations are formally resolved. That has its own internal logic but also compounds the original mistake.

What happens if we get to January 2016 and nothing has changed? What if one of those racing commissions, which have licensed and permitted Asmussen to run thousands of horses since the PETA video was released, has still not issued a report?

If that happens, the Hall’s executive committee can get it right on the third try – simply by saying that it is up to our voters, not our executive management committee, whether Asmussen or anyone else is worthy of enshrinement in racing’s Hall of Fame.

r More than 1 year ago
funny how racing would call out someone like asmussen. with the huge take outs and druggies out there, its amazing racing has any fan base left at all.
Del B More than 1 year ago
Mr. Crist, this doesn't make any sense at all. Nobody needs to "allege" that Asmussen's win total was achieved through the use of drugs, for it is documented in the racing program each and every race day. You are using two differing and unequal standards here, as you allow your sport to slide free where it concerns the indisputable use of performance enhancing drugs on a daily basis, and yet you state that baseball lords need merely have been suspicious of "performance-enhancing drugs" as justification for Bonds and Clemens being shunned by the Hall of Fame. So just what do you mean by "improper use of drugs"? One either used drugs, or he/it didn't use drugs. If you are speaking merely of rule violations and drugs, then clearly Mark McGwire belongs in the Hall of Fame, as he never even plaaaaaaaayed during any period in M.L.B. history when steroids were "improper" (by the baseball rules). So far, the only thing "indisputable" here is that Asmussen's racing achievements were nearly all accomplished with the use of performance-enhancing drugs. And perhaps it is that indisputable part, more than anything, which rendered Asmussen unsuitable to be put before the nominating committee.
Dean Server More than 1 year ago
This is all true but the better comparison is with Pete Rose, who hall of fame voters have been told they can't vote for.
C Coyle More than 1 year ago
What this comes down to is Mr. Asmussen or Mr. Scott Blasi, did not do anything illegally nor have they in violation. So it is unjust of the Hall of Fame to keep him off the ballot just because of an extremist groups ridiculousness. What this comes down to is this... PETA hired a prostitute to sleep with one of Mr. Asmussen's Assts. to get a story. Which held no wait. For if it did why hasn't Mr. Blasi and Mr. Asumussen been charged? It is very clear that this entire scenario is funded and backed by an agenda, which it has been since the beginning. Come on people use your heads. Scott Blasi is an amazing horsemen who is a jerk. He loves his horses. Use your heads... Swearing isn't a crime.
mike More than 1 year ago
Go ahead and look the other way.
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
A) The woman was not a prostitute. And even if she was, that would not in any way negate the illegal actions found in the video. News flash for C Coyle: using a buzzer is illegal. Hiring undocumented workers and not telling the IRS is illegal. Giving thyroid meds to ALL the horses in your barn, regardless of whether they actually needed them, is NOW illegal, and any jerk would know that was cheating then. Sorry the facts don't quite fit your rose colored glasses views of Mrrs. Asmussen and Blasi.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
I agree with this article. The reason they don't put him on the ballot is because they are afraid he may get voted in. Horse racing establishment operates from a defense "please don't hurt me" mode--they never tout facts or take positive measures to promote the sport. Look at the headline today==NYRA to consider trimming schedule because of breakdowns--they never publish or promote how drastically breakdowns have decreased. Or the 3 whip rule in CA. They need to realize that the more you placate PETA, the more they will attack you. PETA should have been sued for tortious interference with Asmussen's career in this instance.
Kevin Smith More than 1 year ago
what about his drug violations at the fair grounds and lone star park i guess you forgot to mention that
Jock More than 1 year ago
I think that they should either find him guilty or drop the charges and let him in.
cherney19 More than 1 year ago
He is a crook and a drug user, why should he belong. Wake up, these people should be banned for life, get rid of Drug O'neil and Asmussen, and anyone who cheats. The sport needs to clean up if it wants it fans back. How about making sure windows close, all windows, close 1 minute before post so a 3 to 1 shot who takes the lead doesn't go down to 9-5 half way through the race.
kmunster2003 More than 1 year ago
I agree with the windows closing. It started about 4 or 5 years ago whoever got the lead no matter their odds would drop. If a 60-1 shot got the lead he would drop to 50-1 (please dont tell me that's smart late money). Classic past posting probably from someone at a computer terminal . It is definitely an edge if you can bet 5 or 10 seconds after race starts. They all don't win but an edge is an edge. Kevin M
Cover2 More than 1 year ago
Welcome to the club: Steve A , Barry B Roger C ,, join Pete Rose..... No H o F anytime soon,
Pete Sundar More than 1 year ago
I have been reading Crist for nearly nine years, and he has not written a SINGLE article impugning any trainer or racing official. Crist was one of the leading backers of former NYRA Chief even AFTER it was discovered that he had inflated his own salary while -- cheating horseplayers to the tune of millions. Noticed the article also conveniently left out Asmussen many previous drug infractions, or Blasi mercilessly kicking a defenseless horse. According to Crist, you would think that there are more saints here than the Vatican !
Larry Kaufman More than 1 year ago
because hes a gelding
Micclay Micclay More than 1 year ago
All Steve Crist essentially said is that the vote should be left up to the voters
Gaye Goodwin More than 1 year ago
Agreed - the racing media only writes about what will bring money to the sport (i.e.. new owners). Cheating is not one of those popular topics for the PR machine.