03/29/2014 1:27PM

Former Asmussen employee commits suicide

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Barbara D. Livingston
Harry Hubbard Johnson, a former shed foreman for trainer Steve Asmussen, died at age 27 on Friday.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. - Harry Hubbard Johnson, who recently left the employ of trainer Steve Asmussen at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark., committed suicide Friday in Kentucky.

Johnson was Asmussen’s shed foreman, a position that ranks a level below assistant trainer. He died two days following his 27th birthday.

“He was a kind soul and a pleasure to be around,” Asmussen said Saturday. “I feel horrible for the whole Johnson family.”

Johnson’s death comes a little more than a week after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released controversial video and audio footage recorded undercover in the Asmussen stable at Churchill Downs and Saratoga in 2013. Most of the recordings featured Scott Blasi, the longtime assistant trainer to Asmussen who was fired last week.

PETA has filed a number of complaints against Asmussen, including alleged animal mistreatment due to the overuse of legal medications. Other complaints filed allege the employment of undocumented workers, paying those workers less than minimum wage, and getting workers to falsify identification documents. The complaints are now being investigated by the Kentucky Racing Commission and the New York State Gaming Commission.

Owner Ahmed Zayat removed a dozen horses from Asmussen’s care last week. One of Zayat’s horses, Nehro, the runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was featured in the PETA video and was said to have serious foot problems. Zayat said he took his horses away from Asmussen because he believes Asmussen was not forthcoming about the physical condition of Nehro. Nehro died of colic on Kentucky Derby Day 2013.

Asmussen is North America’s second all-time leading trainer in wins. He also is the current leading trainer by wins in the nation. Asmussen has divisions of horses at a number of tracks, including Oaklawn and Fair Grounds in New Orleans.

Johnson had worked as a shed foreman for Asmussen since at least December 2013. Johnson had previously worked as a veterinary technician in New York.

Johnson was born in Lubbock, Texas, and was a resident of Versailles, Ky. His mother, Kirsten Johnson, is the owner of the Kentucky Equine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation Center, or KESMARC, in Versailles, Ky.

– additional reporting by David Grening and Jay Privman

** An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Harry Hubbard Johnson's father recently died.