04/14/2014 4:04PM

Phipps calls for publicly available veterinary files for Triple Crown contenders

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Tom Keyser
The Jockey Club Chairman Ogden Phipps, pictured standing at left, called Monday for veterinary files for Triple Crown contenders to be made publicly available.

The chairman of The Jockey Club released a statement Monday calling for trainers of horses entered in the Triple Crown events to make the horses’ veterinary records publicly available beginning 14 days before each of the three races.

Ogden Mills “Dinny” Phipps, whose homebred Orb won last year’s Kentucky Derby and ran in all three Triple Crown events, said in the statement that the call to make the records publicly available was based on the standard protocol in Hong Kong, where vet records on all horses are disclosed. Hong Kong racing is run and policed by a private non-profit company under strict rules.

“It can bring greater credibility to the races that define our sport at a time when millions are watching,” the statement said, referring to the popularity of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.

All three Triple Crown events are already conducted under enhanced security measures, such as 24-hour security at trainers’ barns. During the past two years, New York’s racing commission has required trainers with Belmont entries to submit veterinary records for their horses beginning on the Wednesday before the race, and last year, it made those records available on its website.

[ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays]

In 2012, The New York Times obtained the veterinary records for I’ll Have Another, the prerace favorite for the Belmont, from the racing commission and claimed in an article that the horse had been treated with “powerful painkillers” two days prior to being scratched from the race with a foot injury. Veterinarians strongly disagreed with the newspaper’s use of the term “powerful painkillers” to refer to commonly administered anti-inflammatory medications.

Phipps’s Monday statement is the second he has released in the past three weeks. In late March, Phipps called for racing states to adopt reformed medication rules and threatened that The Jockey Club would support federal regulation of the sport if the majority of racing states had not implemented the recommendations by this summer.

Phipps made the threat in the wake of a video released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleging that trainer Steve Asmussen and his staff abused horses. The video was edited from nine hours of footage shot by an agent of PETA who worked in Asmussen’s barn for several months in 2013. Racing commissions in New York, Kentucky, and New Mexico are investigating PETA’s claims.

In the statement released Monday, Phipps endorsed a call by a columnist for Asmussen to avoid entering a horse in any of the Triple Crown events and the Kentucky Oaks. “His presence and participation would indicate that it’s just ‘business as usual’ in the Thoroughbred industry,” the statement said.

Asmussen trains the Derby candidate Tapiture, the fourth-place finisher in the Arkansas Derby on Saturday, and leading Kentucky Oaks candidate Untapable. Both are owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds. Tapiture has 52 Kentucky Derby qualifying points, ranking 14th on the qualifying list. Twenty horses are allowed to start in the Derby.

Clark Brewster, the attorney hired by Asmussen, said the trainer fully intends to keep both Tapiture and Untapable on course for the Derby and Oaks, respectively. Brewster said the video produced by PETA did not show any “illegal or improper” acts, though he acknowledged that the video included “coarse language” by an Asmussen assistant, Scott Blasi, who was fired shortly after the video first aired.

“From the standpoint of any rules violations or from the allegation that [Asmussen] has done anything illegal or improper, it’s just not there,” Brewster said. “You have to take a look at all the material, and you have to understand what PETA has documented, and that is nothing.”

Brewster also said that Asmussen would “welcome” being part of a national discussion on transparency in racing, and he said Asmussen was willing to talk with Phipps about the issue.

David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Jockey Club is one of the most influential organizations in racing, though it is comprised principally of well-heeled owners and breeders. Many rank-and-file horsemen often chafe at the organization’s pronouncements on regulation.