Asmussen to appeal suspensions citing 'antiquated' rules

December 04, 2019 01:11pm

Clark Brewster, the Oklahoma City-based attorney for Steve Asmussen, said Wednesday he’s preparing an appeal after the Hall of Fame trainer was assessed a 30-day suspension and $3,500 in fines by Kentucky stewards for two medication overages.

According to stewards rulings handed down last Friday, Asmussen-trained horses tested above the allowable 10 nanograms per milliliter threshold of acepromazine metabolite Hydroxyethyl Promazine Sulfoxide (HEPS) after a pair of 2018 victories.

Brewster likened Asmussen’s case to what faced trainers Rusty Arnold and Joe Sharp earlier this year. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission flagged positives in their horses for ractopamine, which can produce effects of anabolic steroids. But what the test actually found were metabolites, the end product of a body breaking down a substance.

Penalties for Arnold and Sharp were rescinded.

“(Stewards) made a ruling and then said, ‘Oops, we didn’t find any ractopamine. We just found the metabolite, and the metabolite’s not listed,’” Brewster said of Kentucky’s drug classifications. “…It’s the same circumstance here, except that instead of ractopamine, which is a schedule 1 that they should pay particular attention to regulate, this is acepromazine.

“Acepromazine is prevalently used on the backside in training to calm a nervous horse or fractious horse, or load a horse on the trailer, work on his feet — those kind of things.”

The KHRC assessed Asmussen a 30-day suspension for the first positive stemming from a June 28, 2018, victory by Thousand Percent at Churchill Downs. He was found with acepromazine HEPS at a level of 76 ng/ml.

A second offense occurred with Boldor after his Oct. 25, 2018, win at Keeneland. The test found acepromazine HEPS at a level of 17.7 ng/ml and added 60 days to Asmussen’s suspension.

The rulings cited “mitigating circumstances” and will allow Asmussen to serve two 30-day suspensions concurrently pending the appeal. The other 30 days will be stayed on condition that no Class A or B medication violation happens under his watch for the next year.

“The issues are interesting,” Brewster said. “This is a matter of fact and science that needs to be addressed by some authority that can give us a definition.”

Brewster said that in addition to the issue of metabolites, Kentucky rules were written under the guise that trainers were administering acepromazine, more commonly referred to as “ace,” via IV. But ace, Brewster said, is now more often given orally, as IVs require a vet’s presence, tallying additional costs.

“Studies have just recently in the last three or four years have come out — pretty significant studies — showing that oral administration causes the horse to retain the inert metabolite for longer periods of time, sometimes as much as 30 days,” Brewster said.

He’ll argue not only that Kentucky’s ace rules are “antiquated,” but that Asmussen denies giving the substance to his horses inside the 48-hour withdrawal period under Kentucky rules. Brewster said the “residual metabolite would not impact the horse,” and that Asmussen has pressed on with this lengthy defense knowing the issue could arise with his training peers.

“Steve, I’ve got to hand it to him,” Brewster added. “He’s a stand-up person. He said, ‘We need to do this for the other guys, too.’”

Brewster, who also owns horses trained by Asmussen, defended the Hall of Famer through allegations in 2014 of equine abuse and medication issues by PETA. The KHRC cleared Asmussen in early 2015 after Brewster said his client “laid bare” his barn.

“I’ve been behind the scenes and really have seen the operation and all of its aspects,” Brewster said. “Steve is very, very vigilant and proactive to make sure there’s not even a close call with any kind of issue. He tells me, ‘I like what I do too much to try and take any risks at all.’ He loves his horses, too. He really does.

“We’ll just move on and hopefully get a more learned audience on the legal side of this matter and prevail in the end.”

 

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