Kentucky horse racing regulators clear trainer Steve Asmussen of abuse allegations

Thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen leads Tapiture to the paddock before the Rebel Stakes. Asmussen has been accused of cruelty to race horses by PETA. Photo: Danny Johnston/AP.
PHOTO: DANNY JOHNSTON/AP
Thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen leads Tapiture to the paddock before the Rebel Stakes. Asmussen has been accused of cruelty to race horses by PETA.

Kentucky horse racing and horse racing in general in the U.S. should hang their heads in shame. But of course they will not. They are too callous and self-righteous.

U.S. horse racing have demonstrated once again they care absolutely nothing about the safety and welfare of the racehorses they use. Asmussen is just the tip of the iceberg of horse racing’s evildoing.

Think I am exaggerating or know nothing about horse racing. I was raised in it — in Kentucky. I also worked many years as a horse racing photographer. And I was married to an Assistant Trainer who worked in the U.S, England and Ireland.

When he was headhunted in England to work in the U.S., I told my husband he would hate the way racehorses are treated in the U.S. He thought I was exaggerating or being oversensitive. After 3 months he was ready to quit. After 6 months he did, and went back home continuing his career in Ireland until he retired.

Here’s part of the story, as reported by the Star Tribune:

    LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky regulators have cleared one of horse racing’s winningest trainers of abuse allegations made by an animal-rights group claiming it had videotape evidence that Steve Asmussen mistreated thoroughbreds in his care.

    The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission [KHRC] investigation found nothing to substantiate claims by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, commission Chairman Robert Beck said Thursday.

    Outside veterinarians asked by the commission to independently review PETA documents and video also found nothing to support the allegations, he said.

    Kentucky regulators also cleared Asmussen’s assistant trainer, Scott Blasi.

    “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,” Beck said in a statement he read after the commission reconvened from closed session.

    “On the contrary, the investigation revealed that Asmussen-trained horses were well cared for as measured by such factors as incidence of injuries and KHRC veterinarian scratches.”

    PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said the outcome of the months-long probe signaled that Kentucky’s racing commission is “uninterested in horse welfare.”

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

    “A responsible enforcement agency would have examined the mountains of evidence — including sore horses who were drugged rather than allowed to recover from strained muscles and ligaments and 3-year-old horses who were made sore every day of their lives — and concluded that significant wrongdoing occurred.”

Of course. If the Kentucky Racing Commission said they had found plenty wrong (and there was plenty) with how the horses the subject of the Asmussen investigation were treated, they would have exposed the industry to an avalanche of damaging exposure they can ill afford.

KHRC Chairman Robert Beck described their investigation as “exhaustive, spanning hundreds of hours of commission staff time to analyze the video and other information.” Seriously? And you saw nothing wrong. Nothing?

Self-serving horse racing regulators in Kentucky are clearly using Peta’s reputation to manipulate public opinion and justify their non findings.

Don’t get too comfortable. Your day of reckoning may not have arrived just yet, but it will.

“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.” Count on it.

In the meantime, I have a good name for a Kentucky Thoroughbred racehorse. Liars’ Express.

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13 thoughts on “Kentucky horse racing regulators clear trainer Steve Asmussen of abuse allegations”

  1. Tuesday’s Horse/The Horse Fund, Vivian and Jane, on behalf of our nation’s racehorses, I thank you for your promotion and support for my book, Saving Baby, http://www.savingbaby.com and I do hope that my love story of “Baby” and my personal experience as a breeder and racing owner and elected member of two racing boards of directors will be informative and hopefully inspiring to your dedicated followers. I commend you for your determination to keep the abuses, injuries and deaths of these magnificent beings before the attention of the public. People can only demand change if they KNOW what needs to change.

    In a civilized society, it is unconscionable to me that this 40 billion dollar gambling industry is allowed to police itself with absolutely no oversight and with no transparency –transparency that has been promised since the Congressional hearing after the death of Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

    Fractured joints and torn tendons and ligaments are repeatedly injected with corticosteroids, drug “stacking” of legally permitted drugs is common place and the constant new move to any exotic substance that might fly under the radar of drug testing is tried and used and when violators are caught, they receive a slap on the wrist and can easily be nominated for an Eclipse award or for the Racing Hall of Fame.

    And all the while these horses are sufferingin silence, people watch and actually cheer as they are whipped repeatedly to race on their injuries.

    Speed kills but the racing industry is very adept at hiding the drugging, the abuse, the injuries, the training and racing deaths, secret euthanasias performed sometimes days after a race (when drugs have worn off) that then are to late to be counted as a death on the track and as if that’s not enough, after all is said and done, the finish line remains a slaughterhouse to the majority or racehorses whether injured or simply too slow. Thoroughbreds remain the second highest breed sent to slaughter and over 152,000 United States horses were slaughtered in 2013. Those horses are just as dead because they raced. Why are they not counted when racing deaths are reported?

    Sentient beings being treated as inanimate objects and disposable as a deck of cards or dice at a casino. Would the public go to a casino that they knew used marked cards and loaded dice? NO!

    So why does horse racing continue to get a pass? Why is a gambling entity — the only one allowed to take gambling wagers across state lines — allowed to give ANY drugs to their horses, and no one knows which horses have received joint injections or heel nerving (to deaden a part of the hoof that is feeling pain)? Sure, the winner is tested but EVERY HORSE out there has thousands of dollars bet on it across state lines through simulcasting and purse money is even paid out down to sixth place. Why then is no one demanding that every horse that races be drug tested?

    As far back as 1973, over 40 years ago, a Congressional committee report cited problems in racing, including doping and the poor state of enforcement. Nothing happened! I bet you heard about Secretariat winning the Triple Crown that year but not about the government report.

    Studies have shown that up to 90% of horses that suffer a break down had pre-existing injuries. With reference to horses racing with injuries, Dr. Tom David, formerly the chief veterinarian for the Louisiana Racing Commission stated to the NY Times: “This is just a recipe for disaster. Inflamed joints, muscles and mild lameness are masked by medication and therefore undetectable to the examining veterinarian.”

    Horses die while racing? Dr. Rick Arthur, currently the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board has stated: “It is hard to justify how many horses we go through. In humans, you never see someone snap their leg off running in the Olympics. But you see it in horseracing.”

    The large hats, the celebrity spottings at high-level races — those are props meant to disguise the real action, which is not only fleecing of bettors but blatant abuse, horrific injury and the death of these majestic beings — our nation’s racehorses.

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  2. Does this surprize me? No, not in the least. While PETA may be an organization despised by many – animal advocates included – the video is the raw truth. To say that this kind of abuse is mainstream in NA horse racing, and legal, is parallel to the treatment of animals in some third world countries – void of compassion and morals – an industry based on throw-away property that just happens to involve living, breathing beings who have no voice.

    The complacency and resistance to face the reality of what is wrong with this so-called Sport of Kings in North America is revolting. This begs for explanation. These people continue to condone a drug culture that exceeds anything beyond concept. Let’s not forget about the Baffert thyroid meds and 7 dead horses incident that came before this and was also dismissed.

    How much longer can these racing people delude themselves and continue to pretend the public doesn’t see through this thin veil of corruption? The industry condones this behavior and, while what was uncovered on tape may not be illegal, nonetheless it is appalling – dismissal of any wrongdoing has simply pushed the public and the fan base further away.

    This should have been a huge wake-up call to those in the industry. In reality it was when it happened but conveniently almost a year has passed and the dust has “mostly” settled. In the wake of this video a huge and urgent movement to overhaul the pervasive drug culture was called for – what really has happened since then? In retrospect not much. Sure some improvements have been implemented but horses continue to die at an unacceptable rate everyday across the country’s tracks – most in low-end claiming races where the advent of casinos has driven up the purses that exceed the value of the horses that run in them. All this has managed to do is create a haven for unscrupulous trainers to unload compromised horses at the prospect of gaining some short-term profit. And if their horses don’t perform? Call up the slaughter truck to dispose of them like trash because they aren’t turning a profit.

    I regularly read the Bloodhorse and Paulick Report, not in support of the racing industry but rather to monitor what people in the industry have to say about some of these blatant crimes against horses. While many have the horse at the forefront, there are equally as many that can’t see the forest for the trees – or at least they don’t want to. As far as the dismissed charges against Assmussen many claim that what happened in Assmussen’s barn is nothing different than anywhere else so what’s the big deal?

    It is a huge deal! At least as far as I am concerned and it should be for others. Nehro never deserved what he got, nor do any of the horses regardless of the fame of the trainer. Just re-visit exactly what happened to this poor creature at the mercy of his multi-million dollar trainer and assistant.

    “On the tapes, Blasi was a profane narrator to the murky goings-on at American racetracks and was often heard bemoaning the lame horses in his barn.On April 17, 2013, only four days after Nehro finished fifth in an Arkansas race, Blasi and his blacksmith, along with other members of the Asmussen staff, discussed the horse’s tender feet and their efforts to keep them on the racetrack. In the video, the blacksmith pointed to Nehro’s right leg and said that it did not have a pulse and that one barely registered in his left.

    The horse was clearly uncomfortable as they poked at what they described as “a hole right through that sore right there.”“His foot is a little bitty nub,” said the blacksmith, who was identified as “Dave” in the investigation.

    On the recording, Blasi acknowledged how much Nehro hurt. Still, the horse continued to train. On the morning of last year’s Kentucky Derby, Nehro got sick on the backside of Churchill Downs. Asmussen later said that the horse died from colic in a van on the way to the hospital.”

    Died from colic? I would love to know what really happened to Nehro – I don’t believe a word they say.

    If this is what the racing industry in North America condones and upholds as acceptable I cannot fathom why anyone would support it. It is reprehensible.

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  3. I grew up in this business. Later, I was involved as an Owner/Trainer for 15 years. I have so much to say, but for the purpose of this article my comments will be limited to my opinion on Steve Asmussen (Steve Ass for short) being exonerated by the KHRC.
    It seems evident that the majority of racehorses running today have physical problems and/or limitations. To what extent depends on the individual horse, and how their bodies respond to the wear, and tear of racing. There are a multitude of factors that contribute to a racehorse breaking down, either career-ending or catastrophic, but it has been proven via scientific evidence conducted by reputable equine vets that breakdowns are a result of long term (chronic) issues.
    So what does this mean, and how does it relate to Steve Ass.? When a racehorse starts exhibiting physical issues an astute Trainer will have the issue diagnosed by a Vet.(Note: any responsible pet owner who notices their pet is not well will use the vet). Depending on the issue, and the extent of it, most racehorses are given drugs to continue racing because the economics of the situation is usually the predominant factor that weighs in on the decision. The Trainer usually notifies the Owner, and together they make a decision. If the physical ailment is damaging enough then the decision is usually very easy to make with the racehorse getting treatment, and the time off required to heal. This is the way things should go when the racehorse’s well-being is the priority.
    In the case of NEHRO, the undercover PETA video clearly shows that Steve Ass., his Assistant Blasi, and most of the supporting staff knew that NEHRO was in dire pain due to foot issues. NEHRO was doped up so he could continue running. These issues were so serious that NEHRO should have been immediately retired from horse racing or, in the least, given a long rest. Both these options were not taken, and this clearly confirms that racehorse abuse, and cruelty was going on in Steve Asses barn. Let’s compare this to a pet dog.
    If somebody owns a pet dog who is in distress, and has been diagnosed with a paw hanging off then that dog would not be made to run in the park. It would probably be put on rest with minimal walking. Yet, NEHRO was made to run in physically demanding high level Stake races. As a Trainer, taking into consideration the extent and damage of NEHRO’s foot problem(as confirmed by Blasi, farrier, vet) there is no way that horse was running at that level unless it had very potent pain killing drugs in its system. A horse with this serious issue would hardly make it over to the paddock let alone run.
    So either blood/urine tests are being tampered with because it’s impossible for this horse not to get a drug positive. Or, it’s possible that drugs were being used such as Dermorphin that they are not testing for. I find it impossible that NEHRO was running drug free, and the video shows just how bad his foot condition was.
    The PETA video confirmed that 1) NEHRO had a painful foot problem. 2) Regular use of joint injections,and drugs were part of the Steve Ass Racing Stable 3) Gross negligence, cruelty to animals, and abuse either physically or verbally were occurring in the barn.
    If this wasn’t enough to have this multiple violating Trainer banned from horse racing for life then there isn’t anything anybody could do to get banned from horse racing. However, as most small time Trainers know the Rules & Regulations of Racing apply to some Trainers and not to others. The R & R’s are delivered unevenly, and often unfairly. What one Trainer does to violate, and gets nothing for it while another Trainer gets the book thrown at them. In these cases, its almost always the Top Trainers that get away with everything year in and year out while small outfits are penalized to no end. It becomes very disparaging for small Trainers like myself, and honest Owners who watch this play out year in and year out. You scratch your head thinking how good you were to your horse, how you rested it, how you played by the rules, and you see these Trainers getting away with what amounts to murder with little or no repercussions. They certainly never get permanent suspensions. Rather, they have high priced Attorneys every step of the way. NEHRO sure didn’t have a high priced Attorney because every step he made was probably extremely painful, and damaging.
    The KHRC confirmed that they 1) Have no interest in cleaning up this business 2) Uphold systemic cruelty, and abuse of the racehorse 3) dismiss PETA, and in a way told them to “get lost.” 4) want to self-regulate with no outside interference while collecting wagering money 5) uphold a dishonest wagering product called the racehorse
    The KHRC has made it abundantly clear that it’s “business as usual.” So NOTHING has changed. All this talk about cleaning up horse racing, punishing or suspending bad Trainers, taking care of the racehorse – all this is talk – just talk.
    In the end, NEHRO lost his life on the track like so many racehorses do. The KHRC sent a message that the exploitation of the racehorse is their right to do, and any outsider telling them otherwise will be dismissed.
    The activities going on in Steve Asses barn is blatant animal cruelty, and the horse racing industry gets away with it when they have organizations like the KHRC allowing it to continue unabated.

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    1. Racing panicked when the Peta tape came out. So they took Ass’s name off the Hall of Fame ballot. What do you bet they put him back on it? Evil beyond words. Honoring someone who tortures racehorses for a living, blatantly so. And just sneers at the world. He and Baffy should have the same cell in hell, if there is one.

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    1. Agreed V. Farrell. The official cause of death for NEHRO was colic. However, any Trainer knows that physical pain is the predominant precursor to colic. I don’t need a vet to tell me that NEHRO’s colic was brought on by chronic pain, and suffering that was being temporarily alleviated by potent drugs. Steve Ass is guilty of many things, but gross negligence, and mismanagement of this racehorse is heartbreaking. Sadly, this approach, and mentality is prevalent throughout the video. This is a prime example of what people refer to as a racehorse HEART. They have HEART and NEHRO had a huge HEART (unlike Steve Ass) because for him to run on stubs, and achieve what he did exemplifies the meaning of HEART. Well, it breaks my HEART that NEHRO was put through a life of pain, and suffering because of Steve Ass. He laughs all the way to the bank with his handlers living off the avails of these racehorses.
      Since I try to remain positive I just have to say this: I thank PETA, and their undercover investigator, for their work, and their courage to stand-up to a very powerful, very rich, organization like the KHRC, and the practices of the horse racing industry as a whole. This is the first time in history that a Top Trainer like Steve Ass is being exposed for what they really are: slave masters neglecting, beating, drugging, and swearing at the slaves; forcing them to run in pain, and suffering.
      It should be noted that Bob Beck is owner of one of the largest breeding Thoroughbred operations in Kentucky hardly impartial to any investigation made into the operations of a race stable. Like I said, horse racing regulates itself.

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  4. This news depresses me. For a moment. The corrupt are focused on the horses as easy money – they just torture them or witness them being tortured – and walk away with the dough. Everyone should share – spread the word that our awakening to their abuse is ongoing to who has been allowing it.

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