03/20/2014 1:26PM

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