Horse trainers cleared in Kentucky inquiry into PETA allegations

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The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) has cleared top thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi, of wrongdoing in an investigation sparked by an undercover operation by the animal advocacy group, PETA.

The commission spent 10 months investigating the claims against the pair.

The inquiry was launched last March after the commission received undercover evidence of alleged violations provided by PETA – the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA said its undercover investigation, which included video footage, took four months around the middle of 2013 at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course in New York. Its investigator was engaged as a hot walker.

However, the commission’s report found no evidence that Asmussen or Blasi violated any Kentucky racing rules or mistreated horses.

Commission chairman Robert Beck said hundreds of hours had been spent analyzing the video and information gathered by PETA, but investigators concluded that the allegations could not be substantiated against the pair.

Witnesses had been interviewed, including Asmussen, Blasi and the PETA investigator, but no basis was found to support the group’s allegations, which were outlined last March in a 10-page complaint.

The video given to investigators had been edited and dubbed, and PETA had refused to provide unedited materials and additional materials despite requests.

The investigation concluded that no action was warranted against the pair.

Beck, reading a prepared statement in announcing the inquiry’s findings, said: “… The investigation revealed that Asmussen-trained horses were well-cared-for as measured by such factors as incidence of injuries and KHRC veterinarian scratches.

“The stewards concluded the allegations do not support any administrative action because no evidence of rule violations was found.”

The report described the inquiry conducted by its investigators as thorough and rigorous.

“No evidence of a rule violation was found. In addition, no evidence was found to substantiate PETA’s claims that ‘Asmussen and Blasi maintained horses in their care in poor physical condition’ or subjected any horse to ‘cruel or injurious mistreatment’, abuse or neglect,” it said.

“The investigative report and materials were sent to the stewards to review and make an independent determination of whether or not a rule violation occurred or there was evidence to substantiate any claim of horse abuse, mistreatment or neglect.

“After careful review of the lengthy and thorough investigation conducted by the KHRC staff into the allegations of animal cruelty and rule violations … including videos, interviews, medical reports and medication statistics, the stewards concluded that the evidence does not support any administrative action, as no evidence of rule violations was presented.”

PETA senior vice-president Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President criticized the commission over the findings.

“If there was nothing wrong in the documentation that PETA found, then something is very wrong with racing in Kentucky.

“A responsible enforcement agency would have examined the mountains of evidence … and concluded that significant wrongdoing occurred.”

Asmussen has more than 6700 wins to his credit and stakes earnings of more than $US214 million. He and Blasi are awaiting the result of a similar investigation launched by the New York State Gaming Commission as a result of the same PETA allegations. That report is expected in coming weeks.

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