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.”