04/30/2014 8:50AM

Winchell among clients standing by Asmussen

Barbara D. Livingston
Despite recent controversies, trainer Steve Asmussen still has clients like the Winchell family, Mike McCarty, and Kirk Robison in his corner.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Winchell family has owned racehorses for more than 50 years and has been associated with Steve Asmussen for 25 years. Over the years, the Winchells used a number of trainers, running the gamut of backgrounds and personalities, including Ron McAnally and Michael Dickinson.

In 2002, Verne Winchell, the family patriarch and founder of the eponymous doughnut shops, died. By then, his son, Ron, like his father bitten by the racing bug, was heavily involved in the stable’s management. Not long thereafter, Ron Winchell decided that instead of parceling out each year’s horses to several trainers, he would give them all to one trainer.

That trainer has trained every Winchell runner ever since. His name is Steve Asmussen.

Over the past several weeks, Asmussen has become a lightning rod in the sport owing to an article in The New York Times and an accompanying video produced by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that alleged that Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, did not properly care for their horses.

Winchell said otherwise.

“He’s repeatedly, always, done the right thing by his horses,” Winchell, 42, said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Las Vegas. “He really does care for his horses, and that’s important to us.”

Winchell is one of several owners with long-standing relationships with Asmussen who have steadfastly stood by Asmussen thus far. Asmussen has lost clients, but Winchell, Mike McCarty, and Kirk Robison are among those who have remained in his corner.

Winchell and Asmussen are having a busy week here at Churchill Downs. On Friday, they are scheduled to run the filly Untapable in the Kentucky Oaks, in which she is expected to be the favorite. And on Saturday, they are scheduled to run Tapiture in the Kentucky Derby.

David Fiske, Winchell’s Kentucky-based farm manager and racing manager, said the PETA video “doesn’t reflect the experiences we’ve had” with Asmussen.

Winchell said his trust and comfort level with Asmussen are based on what he has observed since the late 1980s, “when Steve was a teenager breaking our horses at the family training center in Laredo, Texas.”

“One of the many things I like about Steve is that there’s no BS. I want to be told exactly what’s going on, and he’s always been very straightforward with me,” Winchell said. “My experience is that he’s extremely candid about whatever the problem is with a horse. He lets you know straight out. If you’ve bought a horse for $400,000 and it can’t run, he’ll tell you.”

In concert with Asmussen, Winchell has won a number of major races, most notably the 2005 Kentucky Oaks with Summerly. Winchell said they run in races like that when “there’s a compelling reason.”

“Steve doesn’t need to run in the Oaks or the Derby just to run, nor do I,” Winchell said. “I think he does a great job placing his horses overall. He runs them where they can win. I like that when he has an idea, he has reasons – I want to do this because of this. That’s why he’s a good fit for me.”

Winchell said he has 18 horses with Asmussen. He said he has a 2-year-old crop of 14, and all, per usual, will be placed with Asmussen.

McCarty, 66, has been with Asmussen since 2000, the year he bought his first horse. Asmussen has been his only trainer. McCarty said they hit it off immediately when the subject of management of horses was broached.

“I said to him, ‘Let me tell you something – if you don’t tell me how to run my construction company, I won’t tell you how to train a horse,’ ” McCarty said from his office in Austin, Texas.

Together, they have raced a number of stakes-winning horses, including Private Vow and Storm Treasure, who both ran in the 2006 Kentucky Derby, and Unbridled’s Note, the runner-up in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint.

McCarty said he has approximately 16 runners in training with Asmussen and has had several dozen with him over the 14 years he has raced horses. As with Winchell, McCarty said he finds Asmussen to be straightforward.

“Steve is not a man of many words. If you ask him a question, he’ll give you an answer, without embellishment,” McCarty said. “I’ve had horses with sore feet. He calls me and brings it to my attention. He calls right away when something is wrong.”

McCarty said he staunchly defends both Asmussen and Blasi – who lost his job in the aftermath of the PETA video – because of the care for horses he said he has observed over the years during numerous visits to the track, both for racing and training.

“I’ve spent a lot of time at the barn because I find it enjoyable, and with both Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi, all you see is them tending to their horses,” McCarty said. “I’ve seen them muck stalls, rub their legs. I’ve spent hundreds of hours back there. Those horses get better care than you or I. You can’t be that kind to horses and then have people saying they’re cruel to their horses.”

Joe Dirt More than 1 year ago
Bob, when the people who own the horses are satisfied that Asmussen is treating the animals well, you sound foolish to continue to support an edited, self-serving, hatchet-job done by your favorite organization. But, you're entitled to your opinion. As for me, I'll listen to horse people who know what they are talking about.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Let's set the record straight...nobody ever said that Asmussen himself didn't take good care of his horses but the PETA video provides clear evidence that at least one of Asmussen's employees and at least two of the vets who tended his horses were abusing the horses under their care. And that employee just so happened to be the #2 man in the entire Asmussen organization! It is a well established axiom of management that the person at the top, whether it is the CEO of a major corporation or the owner of a small company, as in Steve Asmussen's case, is ultimately responsible for the conduct and performance of their subordinates. It is quite clear in the PETA video that Scott Blasi and the two veterinarians in question were not the least bit concerned about anyone observing their behavior or overhearing their conversations. They behaved as though they were operating with impunity. I have no doubt they thought they were and no doubt that if they hadn't been exposed they would still be doing the same thing and nobody is ever going to convince me that Steve Asmussen wasn't aware of what was going on! To suggest that Asmussen isn't at fault or shouldn't suffer the consequences of his employees action is BS. It's the same argument Ronald Reagan tried to use when he claimed that he didn't know his subordinates were engaged in the nefarious activities that led to the Iran-Contra scandal....if he didn't know he was clearly incompetent and if he did know then he was an accessory to a crime, even if he didn't actually participate in the criminal activity. In either case he should have been removed from office, either because of his incompetence or because of his criminal conduct and the same principle applies to Steve Asmussen in this case. It is way past time for people in this country to start being held accountable for their actions and to suffer the consequences of inappropriate behavior, whether it is a Wall Street CEO who has stolen $50 billion dollars from the American taxpayers or Steve Asmussen who is stealing money from the wagering public and allowing the horses under his care to be abused by his employees....enough is enough and it is time for the racing industry grow a pair of big brass ones and take a stand against this kind of behavior!
Randy Baker More than 1 year ago
I've heard Donald Serling is sticking with Asmussen for now.
tim blake More than 1 year ago
I'm glad to see the loyalty. The problem is not Asmussen (or Blasi). The problem is that the public will have an entirely different idea than the the racing industry about what is considered proper care and treatment of horses. The public never likes what goes on behind the scenes of any industry that's bottom line is about making money.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
here is example....let us say you short change all of your workers $3 per hour at 40 hours a week. that amounts to around $6,000 a year. you have ten workers that you are shorting which makes the total now $60,000. you do this for twenty years, and you save $1.2 million dollars. that doesnt even have overtime factored in.
jttf More than 1 year ago
does the united states government allow these horrible labor practices on our backstretches ? we need abe lincoln to solve these problems.
Sam Gontz More than 1 year ago
yes and as to the government?they"re crooks!!lol...c"mon...
Russ More than 1 year ago
Anytime people have been operating in secrecy with their methods; doesn't matter where and how and so forth; when the methods are exposed, these people will become agaitated. Now is the time to for everyone to continue to push back at the establishment and try to get change where desperately needed. Will not be at all easy. Nobody wants anyone not to be able to make a living. But these horses need to be treated like the majestic creatures they are, and not as disposable profit making instruments. And for all you horseman that stick together out there, your day is on its way where all who do wrong will be exposed. Federal regulation is on the horizon.
Kenny Black More than 1 year ago
I guess if someone's views are "politically incorrect" or not the fashionable opinion and apparently speaking up for S.Assmusen and Scott Blasi or against PETA fall into that catagory the DRF won't post?? forget freedom of speech ,the freedom of the press must mean free to print what they want or don't ,BUT THEN MINE ARE ONLY THE VEIWS OF A LIFELONG HORSEMEN AND NOT A 2 DOLLAR BETTOR ??WHO I HAVE NOTHING AGAINST AT ALL QUITE THE OPPOSITE BUT THEY SURE SEEM TO NOT HAVE A PROBLEM GETTING THEIR OPINIONS POSTED ON THIS SITE??SO COME ON GUYS POST MINE!!! AND AREN'T YOU SUPPOSED TO BE PRO HORSE RACING???
tim blake More than 1 year ago
everything DRF has published since this started has been pro Asmussen and anti-PETA. surely you have noticed. I am just pointing this out for the reader who might otherwise believe your post.
Sam Gontz More than 1 year ago
Funny huh? I"d like to see just 10% of these "talkers" get up at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. to train or care for a race horse,then come back 3-4 hours later and race ontrack.Forget about it....
maverick thirteen More than 1 year ago
In the PETA video they expose Asmussen using Lasix, legally giving painkillers and using a ferrier to fit a horse with hoof problems. If an owner is looking for a trainer that doesn't do those three things it will be very difficult.
Russ More than 1 year ago
I remember seeing Mr. Asmussen at Fairgrounds back in his beginning days as a trainer. He would be smiling and laughing. It's been a lot of years since I've seen a smile on his face. People can vouch for him all they want. And I do believe he is a talented horseman. But he chose to take the 'other' road. You can't run this many horses and as often as some of these trainers do so; without using drugs to get to the wire in front of all the other horses; as often as they do so. If you could do it without doing so, there would be people claiming horses all over the place. There are a lot of people who know racehorses. And to get the results these high percentage trainers do, goes against the natural law of averages. Afterall, these horses are mostly evenly matched flesh and blood, when entered at there proper level. The real trainers don't say much because they know they up against the onslaught. Enough: Good luck and good racing to everyone. Derby Pick--Wicked Strong==Improving, pedigree, runs hard up the stretch.
jody More than 1 year ago
what kind of drugs are you talking about? legal or not? most of the time when people talk about doping or drugging a horse they know nothing about the subject. derby pick cal chrome
Cris McHenka More than 1 year ago
Best of luck to all horses on both cards may they come home safe and bring home a check.