MARY ESCH, Associated Press
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Racing Hall of Fame-nominated trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant are being investigated by thoroughbred racing regulators in New York and Kentucky after an animal rights group alleged they mistreated horses.
The investigations were launched after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals provided video evidence from an undercover investigation of Asmussen and some of his associates, the states’ racing commissions said Thursday.
Scott Palmer, the equine medical director of the New York state Office of Veterinary Affairs, who’s assisting in the Gaming Commission investigation, said: “The behavior depicted in the undercover video and supporting materials is disturbing and disgusting.”
On its website, PETA said its investigator worked for Asmussen at Churchill Downs and the Saratoga Race Course last summer and documented overuse of pain-masking drugs to push horses beyond the point of physical exhaustion. PETA also accused Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, of administering drugs to horses for nontherapeutic purposes to boost performance, forcing injured horses to train and race and having one of their jockeys use an electric shocker to make horses run faster.
Tulsa, Okla., attorney Clark Brewster, who represents Asmussen and Blasi, told The New York Times the men will reserve comment until they’ve had time to fully review the accusations and would then respond factually.
There was no answer Thursday at Asmussen’s office in Arlington, Texas.
“The allegations and footage provided by PETA are extremely troubling, and we are fully investigating the matter,” said Robert Williams, acting executive director of the New York Gaming Commission. “PETA has offered to assist the commission in its investigation, and we welcome such cooperation.”
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission issued a statement saying it would “conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations and take appropriate steps once that investigation is concluded.”
Asmussen ranks second among trainers in career racing victories, with more than 6,700. He has earned more than $214 million in purses and is among 10 finalists named earlier this month to the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame ballot, results of which will be announced April 25.
Asmussen has two Eclipse Awards as the nation’s leading trainer. He trained Curlin to Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008 and Rachel Alexandra to Horse of the Year in 2009.
Asmussen served a six-month suspension in 2006 after a filly he trained tested 750 times over the legal limit in Louisiana for a local anesthetic used to deaden pain in a horse’s legs so it will continue to run. He turned the operation over to Blasi during that time.
The Times was first to report the PETA investigation.