01/15/2015 5:37PM

Kentucky commission exonerates Asmussen

Barbara D. Livingston
Contrary to allegations from PETA, Steve Asmussen's horses "were well cared for," a Kentucky Horse Racing Commission investigation concluded.

LEXINGTON, Ky. – A nearly year-long investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission into allegations that horses trained by Steve Asmussen were mistreated has found no evidence for the claims, according to a report released on Thursday detailing the probe.

The probe, which was launched in March of last year after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals lodged a series of claims alleging abuse, entailed “hundreds of hundreds of hours” of work by KHRC staff, according to Dick Brown, a spokesman for the commission. The report said that the investigation found that “PETA’s allegations could not be substantiated,” and it went on to say that, to the contrary of the abuse allegations, investigators and outside experts consulted by the KHRC concluded that Asmussen’s horses “were well cared for.”

“Without exception, the veterinary experts did not agree with PETA’s opinions or conclusions and determined that those opinions and conclusions had neither a factual or a scientific basis,” said Robert Beck, the chairman of the commission, in a prepared statement delivered at the conclusion of a commission meeting on Thursday at Keeneland.

As a result of the investigation, Kentucky will take no action against Asmussen, the commission said. A similar probe is ongoing in New York.

Clark Brewster, an attorney who has represented Asmussen during the investigations, said just after the meeting by telephone that he had not yet read the report. However, he said he “is certainly not surprised” at the result, and he accused PETA of misrepresenting its claims in a video it produced from footage shot by a stable worker that was working on behalf of the organization. The video was released in March, just after the publication of a story in the New York Times detailing PETA’s accusations.

“This was an activist organization that wanted to take on racing, and they wanted to find someone with a national name, and that was Steve,” Brewster said. “Unfortunately, they picked the wrong guy.”

Asmussen and Brewster have consistently maintained that the allegations against Asmussen were false. Brewster said that Asmussen cooperated fully with the investigations in Kentucky and New York, and that he agreed to provide any medical or billing records sought by investigators and make all members of his staff available for interviews.

The PETA video, which ran for 9 1/2 minutes, was culled from seven hours of footage shot by the worker during a four-month span in 2013 at Churchill Downs in Louisville and Saratoga Race Course in New York, according to PETA. The KHRC report identified the worker as Kerin B. Rosen, who was licensed by the KHRC as a groom in April 2013.

The video contained numerous shots of horses being treated in the shed row, though it was not clear what medications were being administered. The video also contained numerous shots of assistant trainer Scott Blasi using profanities and rough language when referring to horses and owners. Blasi was fired by Asmussen shortly after the video was released but was then rehired last year.

The KHRC said in its report that PETA claimed to have seven hours of rough footage and a “285-page report” detailing its accusations. The report said that PETA refused to turn over those materials. Instead, the organization provided two videos, one 22:17 minutes long and the other 7:31 minutes long, and both were “extensively edited and overdubbed” – in one case, video of Blasi talking on the phone actually includes audio from a different recording, the report says. PETA also refused to comply with a subpoena for the materials it claimed to have, the report states.

In a statement released on Thursday following the commission meeting, PETA said that the commission had ignored evidence of wrongdoing.

“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has today distinguished itself for being as uninterested in horse welfare as the Syrian government is in human suffering,” said Kathy Guillermo, a senior vice president of the organization, in an emailed statement. “If there was nothing wrong in the documentation that PETA found, then something is very wrong with racing in Kentucky.”

The KHRC report states that investigators had questions about the credibility of Rosen because of an “intimate relationship” with Blasi, which it backed up with text messages provided by Blasi from Rosen. The report states that if Rosen had genuine concerns about the safety of horses, she had a responsibility to report them to the commission at the time the incidents occurred.

PETA also alleged that a jockey working for Asmussen had used an electrical device on a horse, but the report says the allegation could not be substantiated.

PETA also provided to investigators transcripts of conversations that it said alluded to the use of undocumented laborers in the Asmussen barn. The KHRC did not investigate those accusations, according to Brown, the KHRC spokesman, because it was not in the commission’s jurisdiction. PETA had previously said that it forwarded those transcripts to labor regulators in Kentucky and New York.

Following the launch of the probes, the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame removed Asmussen’s name from the 2014 ballot. Last week, the Hall of Fame said it would not place Asmussen on the ballot this year because the investigations remained ongoing.

A copy of the KHRC's full report can be found on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission website.