People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has filed state and federal complaints against two-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Steve Asmussen and his chief assistant, Scott Blasi, alleging animal cruelty, use by a leading jockey of an illegal electrical stimulating device, labor law and immigration violations.
The allegations, reported by Joe Drape in the New York Times, resulted from a four-month undercover operation in which a PETA investigator was employed unknowingly by Asmussen at Churchill Downs and Saratoga last spring and summer. The investigator, equipped with a hidden camera and microphone, compiled more than seven hours of video and documented stable activities in a 285-page report.
PETA has posted a nine-minute, 30-second video, which can be seen below.
The New York Times played no role in the investigation but reviewed all of the documents and video, also interviewing the investigator under the condition that his or her name would not be published.
Much of the focus of the video and written report are on the widespread use of legal medications for joints, lameness and internal hemorrhage (Dr. James Hunt is heard saying the anti-bleeding drug furosemide is used on horses that may not need it and is a “performance-enhancer.”).
Blasi is shown in numerous scenes of the video bemoaning the fact so many horses in the Asmussen barn have physical problems, often using profane language to describe their condition. “They'll (expletive deleted) break your (deleted) heart every (deleted) day, these (deleted),” Blasi is heard saying as a horse is getting an endoscopic examination. “There's always something wrong with ‘em.”
Nehro, the 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up, is shown in the video being examined shortly after a race by a blacksmith who says of a chronically damaged hoof, “His foot is a little bitty nub. It's all broke off. He lost … Z-bars on both feet multiple times until he had bloody holes in the bottom of his feet.”
Blasi added, “The problem is this is a horse who don't have any foot at all.”
Nehro died from colic a few days later.
In another scene, Blasi is overheard talking about shock-wave therapy, whose use is now regulated in most racing states so that it cannot be done within days of a race. “Shock-wave therapy is like, it dead(ens) – it kills pain,” Blasi said. “That's why you can't do it close to (race day). “'Cause people used to do it like two or three days out, and then these (expletive deleted) go out there and snap their (deleted) leg off.”
Asked by the investigator whether it takes a specialist to operate a shock-wave therapy machine, Blasi responded, “No, anybody can do it. A (deleted) retard can do it. It (deleted) hurts like hell. I can't believe them (deleted) can take it.”
The video also captures Blasi suggesting that Oaklawn Park leading rider Ricardo Santana Jr. may have carried an electrical device – often called a buzzer or machine – used to stimulate a horse. In the video, Blasi refers to it as a “maquina,” Spanish for machine. Santana's agent denied to the New York Times that his jockey has ever used that type of device. There is also a secret recording of Hall of Fame rider Gary Stevens and Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas discussing the use of buzzers.
In addition, PETA is alleging Asmussen and Blasi required undocumented workers to falsify their identities to the Internal Revenue Service, paid wages under the minimum wage and did not pay proper overtime.
Complaints reportedly have been filed with the IRS, Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the U.S. Attorney, state racing and gaming commissions in Kentucky and New York, along with the Kentucky and New York labor departments.
The New York Times spoke with Clark Brewster, a Tulsa, Okla., attorney representing both Asmussen and Blasi and an owner who has horses in training with Asmussen.
“It is certainly a surprise to Mr. Asmussen and Mr. Blasi that anyone would deceptively get a job and keep surveillance and their notes on their conduct for the agenda of others,” Brewster told the Times. “They will reserve comment with regard to any accusations until they have had the opportunity to fully review them. Then they will respond factually.”
The allegations came just days after Asmussen's name was listed for the first time on the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame ballots mailed to voters.
On its website, PETA urged individuals to contact their U.S. Representatives and Senators and “ask them to support the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2013, Senate Bill 973 and House Bill 2012, which would increase oversight and penalties for overusing drugs in horse racing.”
PETA has conducted similar undercover investigations of the Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey CIrcus, animal experimentation labs, the exotic pet industry, and turkey and dairy farms.
Read more at New York Times
New to the Paulick Report? Click here to sign up for our daily email newsletter to keep up on this and other stories happening in the Thoroughbred industry.
Copyright © 2017 Paulick Report.