PETA's Actions Frustrated KHRC Investigation

KHRC report says PETA failed to cooperate in investigation of Steve Asmussen.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's frustration with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals practically spills off the 27 pages summing up its investigation of the Steve Asmussen stable following abuse allegations from the animal rights group.

On Jan. 15 the KHRC cleared Asmussen and his assistant Scott Blasi of all charges brought by PETA following the release of what the regulator determined to be a highly edited online video by the animal rights group in March 2014. PETA had suggested the video showed equine abuse at the Asmussen stable in 2013 at Churchill Downs.

Throughout its report that summed up hundreds of hours of investigation, the KHRC expresses frustration that the group that brought the allegations failed to fully cooperate during the investigative process. It also raised concerns about the "undercover" PETA employee who worked for the stable and shot the video, PETA's ignorance in interpreting events documented in its online video, and the highly edited nature of the video.

In a statement on the KHRC's decision, PETA suggested the regulator was not interested in horse welfare, at one point comparing its indifference to the Syrian government's lack of caring for human suffering.

"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," PETA said in a statement. "The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, however, saw smoke and concluded that there is not only no fire but also that everything at the track and in Asmussen's disgraceful barn is just business as usual."

The KHRC report said PETA failed to cooperate throughout the investigative process, a fact the regulator found odd considering the animal rights group was the one that brought the allegations. 

For instance, KHRC had sought all available, unedited video compiled by PETA but only received an edited 22-minute, 17-second video of segments that PETA said provided evidence of horse abuse-related charges. The KHRC also had sought but never received a 285-page report believed to have been compiled by PETA's Kerin Rosen, who worked "undercover" at the stable and shot the video.

"A complaining witness has never refused service of a subpoena from the KHRC or refused to cooperate," the report said. "However, PETA refused service of the subpoena and refused to provide the information, despite repeated assurances from PETA that they would assist in the KHRC investigation, and despite the fact that at least some of these materials were provided to (the New York Times' Joe Drape) and included in the YouTube video."

Oddly, the New York State Gaming Commission has said that it has seven hours of footage from PETA and hundreds of pages of documentation from the group.

The KHRC investigation also raised concerns about Rosen, the PETA employee who compiled the video. The report notes that Rosen's credibility was affected because she was in an "intimate relationship" with Blasi while working for the stable.

In text messages voluntarily provided by Blasi, it appears that Rosen regretted her involvement in the "investigation" and did not agree with the negative image the allegations paint of Blasi. The morning after the video was posted and a story was written about its launch by Drape, Blasi received a text from Rosen stating, "You're a good person." The text messages were included in the report.

The report said many assumptions voiced in the PETA video and allegations against the stable that were shaped by Rosen and Holly Cheever, a veterinarian who frequently works with the animal rights group who reviewed the video but never saw the Asmussen horses in person, are misguided. The KHRC relied on both its own regulatory veterinarians as well as independent veterinarians in assessing PETA's accusations.

In the first video clip in the 22-minute video PETA did send to the KHRC, the group suggests a horse is illegally receiving an injected medication. In fact, the horse is receiving an oral administration of a prescription medication, likely the muscle relaxant dantrolene. The KHRC said oral administration of prescription medications by a non-veterinarian does not constitute a violation of Kentucky regulations. 

The PETA video that appeared online as well as the video sent to the KHRC spends a lot of time on horse's feet and hoof issues, much of it concerning 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner-up Nehro. The KHRC report suggests that many of PETA's assumptions are incorrect.

One case in point is a PETA accusation submitted to the KHRC suggesting that "a lack of pulse in Nehro's right front leg and barely a pulse in the left front leg," is evidence that Nehro had "very bad feet." Investigators said the conversation on the video is talking about a pulse, or lack of pulse, in the horse's feet, not his legs. Asmussen farrier David Hinton said it's bad to have a pulse in a horse's foot, making the assesment, in fact, positive. Scott Morrison, an independent veterinarian brought in for his expertise on shoeing and hoof health, agreed with Hinton, adding that the absence of a pulse in a horse's foot is a desirable finding because it indicates the foot is not inflamed.

The KHRC did not perform a necropsy on Nehro but a necropsy was conducted by the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory and the results were submitted to the KHRC. Pathologist Lynne Cassone determined colitis as the cause of Nehro's death.

Cassone added that there were no lesions noted on the necropsy that would be attributable to the use of NSAIDs. She said medical records indicated Nehro received five NSAID injections in the 30 days prior to his death, four of flunixin and one of phenlybutazone. She said this represents neither chronic nor excessive use of NSAIDs.

In a letter to the KHRC, Dr. Cheever alleges that "extreme pain and stress can have vascular consequences and thus his painful lameness could have been a contributing factor to Nehro's colic, a very painful condition that resulted in his death."

Independent veterinarian Nat White, an expert on colitis, reviewed the necropsy and said he believes the cause of Nehro's colitis was infectious in nature and not stress induced. White said he does not believe orthopedic disease could precipitate colitis.

"If extreme pain were causative for colic, and specifically colitis, it would be reasonable to expect that colitis would develop in a high percentage of cases of laminitis," White said. "Rather the converse is true; horses with colitis are at substantial risk of developing laminitis."

The investigation also determined that audio segments recorded by PETA were dubbed over different segments of their online video, sometimes changing the meaning of what was being presented. It said audio recorded at a different time was overdubbed into a different scene on the Youtube video. 

The report said PETA went so far with such editing tactics as to change an answer given by Blasi from negative to affirmative in one instance. The report said in video of Blasi he at one point clearly says "nah" in answer to a question but the subtitles read "yeah." 

"The videos are extensively edited and audio has been overdubbed," the report said. "PETA presented conversations out of context and contrary to the substance of the conversation as a whole."