Steven Mark Asmussen (born November 18, 1965 in Gettysburg, South Dakota) is an American Thoroughbred racehorse trainer. Born into a horse racing family, his parents, Keith and Marilyn "Sis" Asmussen, are both trainers who operate El Primero Training Center off the Mines Road in Laredo, the seat of Webb County in south Texas. His older brother, Cash Asmussen, currently a trainer himself, is a retired Eclipse Award-winning jockey and a champion in Europe.
Background and career
Asmussen began racing at age sixteen as a jockey, competing at racetracks in New Mexico, California, and New York for three years until his height and weight ended his riding career. In 1986 he began training Thoroughbreds and American Quarter Horses in New Mexico. In 2002, he led all trainers in Thoroughbred flat racing with 407 wins then in 2004 set a new record for wins by a trainer with 555, surpassing the previous standard of 496 held since 1976 by Jack Van Berg.
Asmussen graduated from United High School in Laredo in 1985. He and his wife, Julie Marie Asmussen, have three sons. Asmussen's grandmother, Helen M. Asmussen, died at the age of eighty-three, on Mother's Day, 2007, and was buried on Thursday, May 17, two days before the Preakness victory. She followed every race that her grandsons entered.
Keith Asmussen told Tricia Cortez, formerly of the Laredo Morning Times that his fellow Laredoans do not "have a clue how big Laredo is and has been in the horse industry, and after today, it will be even quadrupled. Some of the best horses have been trained and conditioned in Laredo."
Asmussen is the first Laredoan to have a horse win any of the three legs of the Triple Crown.
In 2008, Asmussen won a single-season record of 622 races. On December 6, 2009, he surpassed his 2008 record with his 623rd race at Woodbine Racetrack near Toronto, Canada. Similarly, in 2004 he collected 555 victories to break his 2003 record. As 2009 neared its end, Asmussen had won more than $21 million in career purse earnings.
Some of Asmussen's top horses have come as a result of his partnership with the late Jess Jackson, a wine entrepreneur who was also a horse owner and breeder. Jackson's racing operation, Stonestreet Stables, produced a couple of racing champions trained by Asmussen: Curlin and Rachel Alexandra.
Curlin finished third in the 2007 Kentucky Derby and beat out Derby-winner Street Sense to win the 2007 Preakness Stakes. Curlin finished second in the 2007 Belmont Stakes to filly Rags to Riches, and went on to take the Breeders' Cup Classic on October 27, 2007, at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. Curlin would win more Grade and Group 1 races in 2008, including the Dubai World Cup, Stephen Foster Handicap and Woodward Stakes. For his accomplishments, he was named American Horse of the Year in both 2007 and 2008.
Rachel Alexandra was acquired by Stonestreet and transferred to the barn of Asmussen following the filly's win in the 2009 Kentucky Oaks. Under the new partnership, Rachel Alexandra would become the first filly in 85 years to win the Preakness Stakes. She would beat colts again in the Haskell Invitational and win over older males in the Woodward Stakes en route to American Horse of the Year honors for 2009.
In March 2014, Asmussen and his assistant trainer, Scott Blasi, were accused by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) of subjecting horses to cruel and injurious treatments, administering drugs to them for nontherapeutic purposes, and having a jockey use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster. PETA has submitted complaints to the New York State Gaming Commission, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and several other local, state and federal agencies. Asmussen told a New Orleans Advocate reporter on March 27 that he hoped to talk about it someday but had to "...respect the process and show patience." Following this report, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame tabled Asmussen's 2014 Hall of Fame nomination "in the best interests of the institution and the sport of thoroughbred racing in general." One of his clients, owner and breeder Ahmed Zayat, moved 12 horses he had placed with Asmussen to other trainers.
On 2014 Kentucky Derby weekend, Asmussen responded to charges in an interview with Bob Costas of NBC. In the interview he denied all accusations, noted that nothing in the PETA video alleged a rule violation or illegal medication use, and stated that assistant Scott Blasi had been fired due to his "disrespectful" comments about Ahmed Zayat. Asmussen said, "Hopefully I do get a chance [to go to court] -- and not just to defend myself." In response to a follow up query from Costas, he acknowledged that it would be possible that he would consider some form of counter-action against PETA.
On May 22, 2014, Blood-Horse magazine reported that they had obtained copies of the PETA complaint to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the 22-minute video that was submitted to investigators through a Freedom of Information Act request. The publication noted that while there appeared be no obvious, "smoking gun" violations in the video, it was possible that investigators would later discover something in the footage. However, it was also discovered that the earlier, nine-minute video titled “Horse Racing Exposed: Drugs and Death” that had been released publicly by PETA on its web site, had been heavily edited. Blood-Horse noted in particular that PETA had moved audio segments, especially of Blasi's outbursts of profanity, to run with completely unrelated video clips.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission cleared Asmussen and Blasi on January 15, 2015, based on the results of an investigation into PETA's allegations. The commission found that no Kentucky horse racing rules were violated, and no further action was taken.
The New York State Gaming Commission released the results of its investigation into Asmussen on November 23, 2015. While some of PETA's allegations were sustained - resulting in a $10,000 fine for the use of the synthetic hormone thyroxine in violation of state drug rules - the more serious allegations of animal abuse were dismissed.
- "Breaking his own record: Trainer Steve Asmussen sets a mark with 623rd victory of 2009", Laredo Morning Times, December 10, 2009, p. B1
- Drape, Joe (2014-03-19). "PETA Accuses Two Trainers of Cruelty to Horses". nytimes.com (New York Times). Retrieved 2014-03-21.
- "New York State Gaming Commission Launches Investigation Into Allegations Of Abuse And Mistreatment Of Race Horses By Trainer Steve Asmussen, Assistant Trainer Scott Blasi And Other Licensed Individuals" (PDF) (Press release). New York State Gaming Commission. 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- "KHRC Statement on PETA Investigation and Allegation" (PDF) (Press release). Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. 2014-03-20. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Fernandez, Bernard (2014-03-27). "Embattled trainer Steve Asmussen mum at Fair Grounds". theneworleansadvocate.com. New Orleans Advocate. Retrieved 2014-03-28.
- "Statement about 2014 Hall of Fame Nominations" (Press release). National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. 2014-03-21. Retrieved 2014-03-22.
- Grening, David (2014-03-24). "Owner Zayat transferring horses from Asmussen stable". drf.com. Daily Racing Form. Retrieved 2014-03-24.
- "Asmussen: PETA allegations 'completely false' - ESPN". Espn.go.com. 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-05-09.
- "Trainer Asmussen cleared in Ky. investigation". The Courier-Journal. 2015-01-15. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
- Hegarty, Matt (2015-11-24). "New York clears Asmussen of major allegations, fines him". Daily Racing Form. Retrieved 2015-11-26.
- Steve Asmussen at the NTRA
- Tricia Cortez, "Winner by a nose: Trainer Steve Asmussen's Curlin takes Preakness", Laredo Morning Times, May 20, 2007
- Joe Drape, New York Times News Service, "Asmussen's horse powers way to Horse of the Year title", Laredo Morning Times, October 30, 2007
- Asmussen Has Drug Positive