A nearly one-year investigation in Kentucky cleared trainer Steve Asmussen of allegations of horse abuse brought by the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation found no evidence of rule violations by Eclipse Award winner Asmussen or his assistant, Scott Blasi. The allegations were brought by PETA, which had an "undercover" member work for the Asmussen stable at Churchill Downs in 2013.
PETA released a video in March 2014 and said it documented horse abuse; the issue received added attention when the New York Times ran the video on its website. The KHRC investigation vindicated Asmussen of all the PETA allegations that included "maintaining horses in poor physical condition," and "cruel or injurious mistreatment," by forcing horses in poor condition to continue to train.
"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," the KHRC said in a statement read by its chairman, Bob Beck, at a Jan. 15 meeting. "The stewards concluded the allegations do not support any administrative action because no evidence of rules violations was found."
Beck said KHRC staff spent hundreds of hours analyzing the 22-minute video submitted by PETA as well as collecting information through interviews of witnesses including Asmussen and Blasi.
Clark Brewster, an attorney for Asmussen, said the trainer was confident from the start that his stable would be vindicated. He said Asmussen had all of his employees cooperate fully with KHRC investigators and officials.
"He's relieved that the Kentucky investigation is over," Brewster said. "From the outset Steve knew that if they looked at everything and understood the truth, that the PETA piece had an agenda to it of attacking horse racing and he just happened to be the person that was in the eye of the storm. Steve said whoever they want to speak with, please facilitate that. Let them review veterinary records, inverview vets, grooms, farriers, whoever."
Brewster said Asmussen lost more than 50 horses from his stable in the days that followed the posting of the PETA video when owners moved them to other trainers.
The New York State Gaming Commission also is conducting an investigation into PETA allegations against the Asmussen stable while at Saratoga Race Course in 2013.
PETA quickly issued a statement in response to the KHRC decision. The organization's senior vice president, Kathy Guillermo, said the KHRC appears 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.
KHRC investigators said PETA and its employee who worked for the stable, Kerin Rosen, were uncooperative. In its report the KHRC said PETA never turned over a 285-page report, apparently collected by Rosen, and seven hours of video said to exist.
KHRC officials said the PETA video that appeared online was extensively edited and had overdubbed audio.
"PETA refused service of the subpoena and refused to provide the information, despite repeated assuraces from PETA that they would assist in the KHRC investigation ..." states the extensive report. The KHRC said Rosen's credibility also was hurt by the fact that she "was in an intimate relationship with Blasi," while at the stable.