Shedrow Secrets, Installment 7
By Joy Aten and Jo Anne Normile (author of “Saving Baby”)
Bred and owned by a prominent racing family, Royal Finder took his first wobbly steps as a newborn in Texas. One might expect Royal Finder would race successfully then find a soft landing at the end of his career, after having fattened the bank accounts of his father-son owner and trainer team. The handsome grey gelding did in fact earn $64,000 in 11 starts as a 2- and 3-year-old. He was running in allowance races with purses well in excess of 20K and was also stakes-placed. A full year passed, however, from his 11th start in an allowance race to his next race as a 4-year-old. In his 12th start, he was dropped into a claiming race, a frequently used “business plan” for owners to dispose of an injured horse. Such was the case for Royal Finder, and although he placed first for another 10K in earnings, he was claimed that race.
Royal Finder raced less than three weeks later for his new connections. He came in a dismal 10th, and the track comments for his next three races were telling: “Early speed, tired,” “Pressed pace, tired,” and “Close up, gave way.” And finally, his last race, “Clear, broke down.” Royal Finder’s knee had collapsed. Even after such a catastrophic injury, Royal Finder was forced to walk back to the barn in what must have been excruciating pain. And yet, his ownership was transferred again, to a small-time trainer who believed he could get one more race out of the wounded gelding.
When our racehorse rescue volunteers walked the shedrows of Michigan’s Great Lakes Downs during the closing week of its 1999 meet, they knew they would be intaking many injured horses – horses of nomadic trainers who would not want to pay to ship them to the next meet in another state. And so it happened for Royal Finder. His new trainer decided against taking the gelding with him and approached the rescue volunteers about purchasing him. One look at the pitiful grey horse – ears back, head down, and non-weight bearing on the injured leg, which was grotesquely turned outward from the knee down – and the rescue matched “meat price” then quickly searched for the private racetrack veterinarian.
Although track vets see equine injuries on a regular basis, Royal Finder’s collapsed knee was so severe the vet was shocked and outraged at the suffering the gelding was left to endure for well over a week. Then in less than an hour’s time, Royal Finder was purchased by the rescue, liberating him from the industry that destroyed him…then euthanized with the caring volunteer at his side, releasing him from his agony. Royal Finder, having run in 17 races and earning $75,000, was dead at the age of four.
Fast forward to July 2012. Multiple reports from racing media outlets, including BloodHorse, the Daily Racing Form, and the Paulick Report, told of 10 broodmares found at the Round Mountain horse auction. Located in Marble Falls, Texas, the auction is known to be frequented by kill buyers. The presence of broodmares at any horse auction is a common occurrence, so why did these particular mares make the headlines? Because of the man who sent them there: Keith Asmussen, patriarch of the prominent Texas-based Asmussen racing family and father of Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen.
Only months earlier, many of the mares had delivered 2012 foals, and 8 of the 10 were bred back. Now, 9 were rescued from likely slaughter by businessman and Thoroughbred owner John R. Murrell. Keith Asmussen claims he was unaware kill buyers (purchasing for Mexican slaughterhouses) are present at the Round Mountain auction. Asmussen: “I didn’t even know there were any slaughterhouses left.” Amazing…to be oblivious to the slaughter of horses when his own website – the Asmussen Horse Center – exclaims “Horses are, and always have been our ONLY business!” and, by the way, “Starting our 52nd year…”
The Asmussens – Keith and Steve – were the breeder/owner/trainer of the ill-fated Royal Finder. And much like the 10 Asmussen broodmares dumped at the auction, Royal Finder was unloaded into a claiming race. Less than 3 months later, he was dead.