Steve Asmussen cleared in Kentucky after allegations of horse abuse
Kentucky regulators have cleared one of horse racing’s winningest trainers of abuse allegations made by an animal-rights group claiming it had videotape evidence that Steve Asmussen mistreated thoroughbreds in his care.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation found nothing to substantiate claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, commission Chairman Robert Beck said Thursday.
Outside veterinarians asked by the commission to independently review PETA documents and video also found nothing to support the allegations, he said.
Kentucky regulators also cleared Asmussen’s assistant trainer, Scott Blasi.
"No evidence was found to substantiate PETA’s claims that Asmussen and Blasi maintained horses in their care in poor physical condition or subjected any horse to cruel or injurious mistreatment, abuse or neglect," Beck said in a statement he read after the commission reconvened from closed session.
"On the contrary, the investigation revealed that Asmussen-trained horses were well cared for as measured by such factors as incidence of injuries and KHRC veterinarian scratches."
PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said the outcome of the months-long probe signaled that Kentucky’s racing commission is "uninterested in horse welfare."
"If there was nothing wrong in the documentation that PETA found, then something is very wrong with racing in Kentucky," Guillermo said in a statement.
"A responsible enforcement agency would have examined the mountains of evidence — including sore horses who were drugged rather than allowed to recover from strained muscles and ligaments and 3-year-old horses who were made sore every day of their lives — and concluded that significant wrongdoing occurred."
Beck described the Kentucky investigation as exhaustive, spanning hundreds of hours of commission staff time to analyze the video and other information. Investigators interviewed Asmussen, Blasi, the PETA undercover investigator and others associated with Asmussen’s stables, he said.
Beck also said the video presented by PETA was "extensively edited and dubbed," casting doubt on the credibility of PETA’s case.
Clark Brewster, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, attorney who is representing Asmussen and Blasi, said his clients cooperated with investigators and were pleased with the outcome of the Kentucky investigation.
"We’re pleased that they saw through the drama and exaggeration and the slickly produced tape and then looked at the facts," Brewster said. "Steve’s approach has always been that we’re not rule violators, we take good care of horses and if the truth is known, we’ll be truly vindicated."
The allegations arose after PETA said its investigator worked for Asmussen at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course in New York.
PETA said its investigation documented overuse of pain-masking drugs to push horses beyond the point of physical exhaustion. It accused Asmussen and Blasi of administering drugs to horses for nontherapeutic purposes to boost performance. The group accused them of forcing injured horses to train and race and having one of their jockeys use an electric shocker to make horses run faster.
New York’s investigation into the allegations is continuing, said Lee Park, a spokesman for the New York State Gaming Commission.
"The commission has been conducting a full, comprehensive investigation into the matter, which involves verifying the multiple serious allegations that were documented by PETA over a lengthy period," he said.
Asmussen ranks second among trainers in career racing victories, with more than 6,900. He has earned more than $224 million in purses — fifth on the career list.
Asmussen, an Eclipse Award winner as the nation’s leader trainer, trained Curlin to Horse of the Year honors in 2007 and 2008 and Rachel Alexandra to Horse of the Year in 2009.
Asmussen’s nomination to the Racing Hall of Fame was tabled last year after the allegations surfaced.