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Saturday, March 22, 2014
PETA Video Prompts Investigation of Horse Trainers in New York and Kentucky
I just hope that the truth starts to come out about what race horses go through and how some are treated so poorly and even abused. ~Declan
PETA Videos Prompt New York and Kentucky to Investigate Horse Trainers
As posted on
The New York Times
MARCH 20, 2014
Steve Asmussen lifted the Woodlawn Vase after Rachel Alexandra’s 2009 Preakness Stakes win.
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
The horse racing authorities in New York and Kentucky opened investigations on Thursday into allegations of mistreatment of thoroughbred racehorses by Steve Asmussen, the nation’s second-winningest horse trainer, and his assistant Scott Blasi.
The investigations were prompted after complaints and evidence of suspected violations, gathered in an undercover investigation, were provided by
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
to the New York State Gaming Commission and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
“The behavior depicted in the undercover video and supporting materials is disturbing and disgusting,” said Dr. Scott Palmer, New York’s equine medical director. “We are working to determine what happened and ensure that proper protocols are put in place to prevent such actions from taking place again.”
Dick Brown, spokesman for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said that the commission “takes allegations of cruelty to animals very seriously.”
The undercover inquiry was conducted by a PETA investigator who worked for Asmussen — who is on the ballot for the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame and has a
contender, Tapiture — for four months in the spring and summer of 2013 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
PETA filed 10 complaints with the state and federal authorities accusing Asmussen and Blasi of administering drugs to their horses for nontherapeutic purposes and of having a jockey use an electrical device to shock the horses into running faster. The investigator compiled a detailed report using a hidden camera to record video that showed widespread mistreatment of horses.
PETA also accused Asmussen of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms and conspiring with Blasi to produce false identification documents, according to complaints filed with state and federal agencies.
The allegations come as horse racing continues to wrestle with a drug culture that its officials concede has badly damaged the sport. Congress has held multiple hearings and has proposed legislation that would create stricter rules and give the United States Anti-Doping Agency the authority to enforce them.
“We know from testimony given in front of my own subcommittee that the abuse of prescription and nonprescription drugs is rampant in horse racing right now,” said Representative Joe Pitts, Republican of Pennsylvania, who sponsored the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act. “This disturbing behind-the-scenes footage reinforces how bad things have gotten in the industry. I hope this builds even more support for needed reforms.”
Asmussen and Blasi have declined to comment through their lawyer. Through his agent, the jockey, Ricardo Santana Jr., has denied using an electrical device, an allegation that was prompted by a video recording of Blasi stating that Santana had done so.
The videos also capture some of thoroughbred racing’s most prominent figures discussing chicanery in a cavalier manner. There is a recording of a conversation about buzzers, the electrical devices Santana is accused of using, that the investigator had at dinner with the Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens and the trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Stevens, 51, who has won nine
races, talks about how he was given such a machine to race with as a young rider and how he managed to shock himself.
Lukas, who has won 14 Triple Crown races — the most for a trainer — said that in the beginning of his career as a quarter horse trainer, everyone at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico had a buzzer and that behind the gate, “it was just like a full-blown orchestra.”
The videos and the report showed how multiple drugs were given daily to Asmussen’s racehorses — whether they needed them or not — by grooms and employees so that they could pass veterinary inspections, make it to the racetrack or perhaps perform at a higher level.
Among the drugs was thyroxine, a hormone intended to address thyroid problems. It is a metabolic stimulant that promotes weight loss and the development of lean muscle mass and increases heart rate. It was recently added to a list of prohibited drugs by the international governing body for Olympic equestrian disciplines.
In a recent investigation into the sudden deaths of seven horses trained by Bob Baffert from 2011 to 2013, the California Horse Racing Board found that Baffert was giving thyroxine to all of his horses whether they had thyroid problems or not. Baffert, a Hall of Fame trainer, said he stopped using the drug last March after the seventh horse died.
Dr. Jeff Blea, president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, said that all veterinary treatments and procedures should be based on an examination and a medical diagnosis.
“After viewing the video, I found numerous items to be disturbing and tasteless,” Blea said. “Everyone involved in the sport of horse racing has a fundamental responsibility to respect the horse and put the health and welfare of the horse first, in all aspects of care.”
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