05/03/2014 12:36PM

Asmussen breaks silence on PETA video in Costas interview

Barbara D. Livingston
Trainer Steve Asmussen, shown here with rider Rosie Napravnik after the Kentucky Oaks, broke his silence on a PETA video showing alleged abuse of horses Asmussen was training.

Steve Asmussen broke his silence on the animal abuse allegations made against him by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals during an interview with NBC’s Bob Costas that aired partially during the network’s Kentucky Oaks broadcast Friday, calling the claims “horribly misleading and untrue.”

Asmussen, who has refused to talk to reporters about the allegations since PETA released a nine-minute video taken from seven hours of footage shot by one of his employees, said that the video and a complaint PETA forwarded to racing commissions in Kentucky and New York did not show “one actual rule violation.” The employee worked for Asmussen for four months last summer and was secretly shooting the footage as a PETA agent, PETA has claimed.

Asmussen also denied that any jockeys who had ridden his horses had used an electric shock device, an allegation made by PETA based on conversations about the machines among Asmussen associates. Specifically, PETA said that Ricardo Santana Jr., who will ride Asmussen’s Tapiture in the Derby on Saturday, had used a buzzer on a horse.

“That is not true,” Asmussen told Costas. “That is absolutely ridiculous.”

The allegations have cast a cloud over Asmussen and the sport of racing on its biggest weekend. On Friday, Asmussen won the Kentucky Oaks with Untapable, widely considered the leading 3-year-old filly in the country. Following the victory, Asmussen again declined to address the PETA allegations with reporters, leaving the Costas interview as his sole comment so far on the issue.

Following the release of the video in late March, Asmussen fired his longtime assistant, Scott Blasi, who was featured in the vast majority of the clips edited by PETA from the footage. Asmussen told Costas he fired Blasi because he referred to an owner, Ahmed Zayat, with a vulgarity and not because of the animal abuse allegations made by PETA. 

“His comments were extremely disrespectful to an owner of ours, and that’s unwarranted,” Asmussen said.

Asmussen accused PETA of misrepresenting his stable’s operations with the video to further its goals.

“Their stated goal is to abolish horse racing,” Asmussen said, adding later, “They aren’t going to get anyone’s attention unless they throw in the shock value.”

Asmussen also said the accusations have unfairly affected his image.

“The most bothersome thing about this is for anyone to think that I am not a good caretaker,” Asmussen said. “That would be the first thing on my resume.”

Following the release of the video, the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame withdrew its nomination of Asmussen for induction. Asmussen said the withdrawal was disappointing.

“I come from a racing family, and it would mean a lot to all of us,” Asmussen said.

Asmussen also indicated he plans to fight any allegations or charges that racing commissions might bring against him, and he said he may seek legal redress against PETA as well.

“They’ve certainly opened themselves up to that with such ridiculous claims,” he said.