03/20/2014 2:26PM

PETA accuses Asmussen stable of mistreating its horses

Tom Keyser
Steve Asmussen (left) and Scott Blasi (right) have been accused of animal abuse and misuse of drugs on horses by a PETA employee who worked for the stable.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has filed multiple complaints – including alleged animal abuse, the misuse of drugs on horses, and fraud – against trainer Steve Asmussen and his top assistant, Scott Blasi, with various agencies in Kentucky and New York, and seeks sanctions against them, including the possible suspension of their licenses as well as potential criminal charges.

The complaints also include Asmussen allegedly employing undocumented workers, requiring those workers to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms, and underpaying them.

Asmussen ranks second among trainers in Thoroughbred racing history with 6,725 wins and fifth in purse money with $214,683,696. He is among 10 nominees on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot.

A female employee of PETA worked undercover for Asmussen’s barn from April to August last year at Churchill Downs and Saratoga. PETA alleges that at the Asmussen barn, there was “chronic misuse of drugs apparently to enhance horses’ performance and mask their injuries.”

The New York Times was the first to report PETA’s investigation, which produced the release of a nine-minute video – from more than seven hours of video taken – that shows the Asmussen stable – and Blasi in particular – in a poor light in their treatment of horses.

While the focus of PETA’s undercover investigation centers on Asmussen and Blasi, the organization has asked the Louisville Metro Animal Services department to investigate one additional trainer and three jockeys for possible animal abuse in the form of using an electrical device on horses to make them run faster. Though the names of the trainer and jockeys are redacted in the complaints, trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens are shown in the PETA video discussing the use of a buzzer.


PETA-produced video (Contains offensive language)

Also, Ricardo Santana Jr., currently the leading rider at Oaklawn Park, is mentioned by Blasi as being a “good machine rider.” Additionally, there is a reference to Super Saver, the 2010 Kentucky Derby winner, possibly having been hit with a buzzer. Super Saver was ridden by Calvin Borel.

The complaints also seek to have two veterinarians investigated. Though the names of those vets are redacted, Dr. James Hunt, who works primarily at New York Racing Association tracks, and Dr. Joseph Migliacci were mentioned by the New York State Gaming Commission as two people it would be investigating after being identified to them by PETA. The gaming commission announced Thursday that it would be investigating incidents that occurred last summer at Saratoga involving the Asmussen stable.

“The allegations and footage provided by PETA are extremely troubling, and we are fully investigating the matter,” said Robert Williams, acting executive director of the New York State Gaming Commission. “PETA has offered to assist the commission in its investigation, and we welcome such cooperation. We expect that all other parties involved will be forthcoming as well. If the results of our investigation find that licensed individuals violated the state’s laws and rules, the commission will consider all options.”

PETA’s complaints focus on the overuse of drugs – mostly legal therapeutic drugs – on Asmussen horses, including Lasix, which apparently was given to every horse in the barn, regardless of need. One of the complaints alleges that Asmussen or Blasi instructed a lay employee to administer a prescription drug to a horse, and that Asmussen and Blasi were maintaining horses who were in poor physical condition.

The complaint alleges that many, if not all, Asmussen horses based in New York were given daily doses of Thyrozine despite having no apparent evidence of a thyroid condition.

The complaint alleges that one horse, Nehro, the runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby, was forced to race and train on hole-ridden, chronically painful hooves that were held together with superglue and filler. Nehro died on Kentucky Derby Day in 2013 due to colic, unrelated to any foot problem.

Nehro is owned by Ahmed Zayat. Although supporting materials of the complaint indicate that Nehro had chronic foot problems, Zayat said Thursday he had no knowledge of those foot problems. Zayat said he was aware that twice Asmussen had to stop on Nehro for ankle issues.

“I never, ever, ever knew that Nehro had a foot issue,” Zayat said. “Ever.”

Zayat said he was “very horrified, very upset” about the allegations made against Asmussen. He said he had not yet spoken with Asmussen but ultimately would. Zayat said he has 10 to 14 horses with Asmussen and has been with him for six or seven years.

“There are two sides to a story – I need to get the other side,” Zayat said. “If it looks as it is, I’ll have to remove my horses.”

Clark Brewster, the attorney representing Asmussen and Blasi, said that as of Thursday morning, he had not seen any of the complaints PETA has filed or any of the supporting material as a result of its investigation. Brewster said Jeffrey Kerr, PETA’s general counsel, “disclaimed any knowledge” of the investigation.

“Until I see the materials, it’s hard to comment,” said Brewster, who owns horses trained by Asmussen. “It’s obviously a piece completely out of context slanted for the purposes of the organization that caused somebody to deceptively be hired by the Asmussen stable.”

Internal Revenue Service complaint

Kentucky Horse Racing Commission complaint

Kentucky Labor Cabinet complaint

Louisville Metro Animal Service complaint

New York Department of Labor complaint

New York State Education Department complaint

U.S. Attorney's Office complaint

U.S. Department of Labor complaint

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement complaint

New York Gaming Commission complaint

Jody Boyd More than 1 year ago
I don't care how much of an "agenda" PETA has. That video is SICKENING. I couldn't even watch the entire thing. Some lawyer got the trainers off with virtually a slap on the hand, and it is a travesty.
Nanci Little More than 1 year ago
The more I read, as a horse lover, the more I am sickened by these greedy MFers who abuse and misuse these noble creatures for $$$ in their pockets! Even the riders with the buzzers (I KNOW what these are.. have seen them at QH tracks .. pathetic excuses for trainers have to resort to such disgusting acts as this!) that normally I would be cheering on I will now be cheering to see them just lose and lose and lose again.. perhaps THEY might be the proper entities to suffer the pain of broken bones.. NOT the horses who do not ASK to be born into this Hell and certainly have done NOTHING to deserve this hell. One more black trash bag recently discovered here in Miami with the head and legs of one of the many slaughtered horses for the black market meat trade among the Cubans.. and.... guess what... a lip tattoo proves that this horse that lost his life screaming with his head tied high in a tree while being stabbed in the chest over and over and then his throat cut on a deserted dirt road .... was a registered Thoroughbred who had been raced! One of those that the 'concerned trainers' call a 'rat'.. when he can't run fast enough to satiate their never ending greed.
tweetybirdnerd More than 1 year ago
As if 4-23-2014 what has happened to this A-hole trainer and horse killer?
tweetybirdnerd More than 1 year ago
All the jocks use buzzers. Most of the trainers use many illegal drugs and tactics. No wonder its so hard to pick winners these days-you never know when the fix is in or not.
Elaine Parkinson More than 1 year ago
What I want to know is this: How or When is someone like Dutrow going to publish a book that clues the gambler on all the scams that are being played out that the gamblers (us) don't already know about? Now that is an investment that I would not hesitate making and would have to consider it to be on par with Steven Crist's "Exotic Betting Strategies" or another great handicapping tool. If we knew what med's made the horses shake, sweat, etc.. we'd at least know which races to play/pass on. This is the theater of the absurd but WE (the horseplayers) deserve to know the truth. I don't care where it comes from and quite frankly, even if it's slanted... as long as it's the truth. This industry deserves a real Commissioner like MLB or the NBA because if this is the tip of the iceberg, then Horse Racing is doomed anyway. What do we have to lose except to maybe revive any chance to start re-breeding sound horses, even if the Gov't had to subsidize a $10 Billion Breeding program to start buying back sound horses that we sold to the Middle East or Japan. Heck, I'd settle for German breds if they were sound and without medication in their DNA going back 3 -5 generations. I didn't play last weekend after picking up a Form on Saturday and then reading DRF.com made me sicker. I look at all these horses with "contempt prior to investigation" now and I don't want to look at these horses this way. I learned to love horses (I grew up and learned to ride at 33 MPH, my older brother timed me on a dirt road next to the large farm/turf area I rode on) before I had sex. The horses deserve our protection and we gamblers make this industry go... PERIOD. The Owners/Breeders "THINK" they do, but without our dollars, they have nothing and will have to go find another hobby.
Kenny More than 1 year ago
why would anyone believe Zayat?
RachelL More than 1 year ago
I agree with you about Zayat. Zayat had a horse named Riley Tucker and when I looked at the Zayat site, it was as though he had never owned Riley Tucker. I haven't found any information about him, either as a stud or at a racing retirement facility. Hopefully the horse is ok.
sjm80s . More than 1 year ago
By the way, take a look at Steve Asmussen's strike rate at Aqueduct for 2014 accurate as of this moment. (31 - 1 - 5 - 4 - .03) Um, for everywhere not named Aqueduct, it looks like this for 2014. (389 - 94- 75 - 64 - .24) OUTSTANDING START HUH! Why the steep drop off at Aqueduct Steve? They're watching aren't they? Why aren't you all out there watching? Why stay so naive when trainers are conducting business so immorally? Keep your eyes open folks. It's your money people like this cost you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
2014 stats for Steve Asmussen 2014 Statistics: Starts: 420 Firsts: 95 Seconds: 80 Thirds: 68 Earnings: $2,906,075 Avg. Earnings Per Start: $6,919
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
His stable ranges across all of North America. Woodbine has not opened yet.
Ray Sousa More than 1 year ago
CASABLANCA revisited im shocked shocked there's gambling going on here.the racing industry version would be similar except add there's doping and buzzing and cheating going on here...is this really news to the industry i know it is not.How do i know? because of the fact that its all been exposed before and the same actors have been caught and suspended before.stevens and lukas have faced buzzing allegations in the past they were cleared for lack of evidence but now stevens has admitted it himself while lukas sitting at the same table laughs and tells his own buzzer story.Jockey SHANE SELLERS wrote a book admitting to using a buzzer and telling us that at evangeline downs you had to use one because everybody else did.assmussen has multiple drug violations and there's a very thorough report on the over use of drugs in racing on thoroughbred daily news web site.so the only ones shocked by all this are the less informed betting public.the industry is basically in a wink wink nod nod sweep under the rug mode as its always been.
[removed] More than 1 year ago
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Mr. Ed More than 1 year ago
You don't DNA test for a thyroid condition. Thyroxine is a joke and obviously used as a performance enhancer. 100% of Baffert's horses were on Thyroxine during the time he racked up an abnormal amount of sudden cardiac deaths. They don't test for it, it's not illegal. And that is a crime. I agree, ban clenbuterol, it's clearly used as a performance enhancer and is banned by all anti doping agencies as such.
Tommi Stevens More than 1 year ago
I hope assmussen gets what he deserves...he has been implicated once too many times...these are beautiful creatures we uses for our enjoyment he has taken it to far..I'm not a peta fan but if this needed to be revealed then we will be the dumdasses if we continue to support him.