PETA undercover video sparks inquiry by racing regulators

An image from the Peta video.
An image from the Peta video.

An undercover investigation by an animal advocacy group has resulted in racing authorities in New York and Kentucky launching investigations into top trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi.

The New York State Gaming Commission said it was launching an inquiry into allegations of abuse and mistreatment of racehorses.

Its investigation was launched after the commission received undercover evidence of alleged violations provided by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The commission’s acting executive director, Robert Williams, said the allegations and footage provided by PETA were extremely troubling.

“We are fully investigating the matter,” he said.

“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.”

On Tuesday, PETA gave the commission material and requested an investigation into the conduct of several currently licensed individuals who participated in New York horse racing at Saratoga in July and August last year.

The individuals identified by PETA include Asmussen and Blasi, as well as two attending veterinarians and a jockey.

The commission said it would review all footage documenting the allegations. It is understood the commission will review about seven hours of material.

“The behavior depicted in the undercover video and supporting materials is disturbing and disgusting,” Palmer said.

“We are working to determine what happened and ensure that proper protocols are put in place to prevent such actions from taking place again.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission confirmed it had also received documents from PETA, and its staff were reviewing the information. It said it took allegations of animal cruelty seriously.

“When our racing stewards are notified of any possible activity that involves cruelty to horses at licensed facilities, the stewards take prompt action to investigate and take the appropriate action,” it said in a statement.

It would conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate steps, it said.

The US Jockey Club said it was aware of recent media reports on the matter.

“The Jockey Club fully supports and assists law enforcement agencies, the courts and racing regulatory authorities in the investigation of matters involving animal cruelty,” it said.

It said it remained committed to the comprehensive national reform of medication rules, laboratory standards and penalties currently under way in 19 racing jurisdictions that aimed to enhance transparency and severely prosecute those who operate outside the rules.

“The Jockey Club will continue to aggressively pursue these reforms until they are uniformly adopted for all North American racing,” it said.

PETA said the undercover investigation took four months, around the middle of last year. Its investigator was engaged as a hot walker.

PETA filed a total of 10 complaints against Asmussen and others working with him in Kentucky and New York.

It is alleged, among other things, that horses received regular doses of Thyrozine, a drug used for hypothyroidism, despite no apparent evidence of thyroid conditions.

PETA also said it had found evidence of apparent irregularities around immigrant labourers.

Asmussen, 48, is a top American trainer, with more than 6700 wins to his credit and stakes earnings of more than $214 million.

On Friday, his name was removed as one of the finalists on the 2014 ballot by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Communications Officer Brien Bouyea told Hall of Fame voters that based on the pending investigations, that the trainer’s nomination has been tabled “in the best interests of the institution and the sport of thoroughbred racing.”

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