Report: PETA Probe Alleges Cruelty to Horses

Editor's Note: This article was upated at 4:20 EDT to include additional information.

A major Thoroughbred racing stable was the subject of a 2013 undercover investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which alleges over-medication of and cruelty to horses, as well as use of electrical devices on them. Racing regulators are investigating PETA's claims.

The New York Times published an article on the PETA probe in its March 20 edition and posted on its website late March 19. In the story, the Times said it reviewed all documents, about seven hours of video, and related complaints, but had no part in the investigation.

The newspaper said it wrote the story on the condition it not publish the name of the investigator, who is said to have worked for trainer Steve Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi, for four months at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky., and Saratoga Race Course, in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

The PETA investigator also alleged Asmussen employed undocumented workers and encouraged use of false documents, according to the Times.

The Times article said PETA "filed complaints with federal and state agencies in Kentucky and New York on Tuesday, saying Asmussen 'forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train.' "

The Times March 19 contacted attorney Clark Brewster, who is representing Asmussen and Blasi.

"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."

Thoroughbred owner Ahmed Zayat, who has a number of horses in the Asmussen barn, responded to the story on Twitter by saying he is surprised at the report but "I am waiting on facts. Every story has two sides. I will do my homework."

Zayat owned Nehro, one of the horses mentioned in the Times story. The colt, known to have hoof issues, is said to have died from colic on the way to an equine hospital in May 2013.

Asmussen is on this year's ballot for induction in the National Museum of Racing's Hall of Fame.

PETA didn't issue a statement on the investigation but offered an outline of the probe on its website. It appears the medications mentioned are therapeutic and permitted to be used within certain guidelines; PETA alleges the drugs were used for non-therapeutic purposes.

The group focused on use of furosemide, the anti-bleeding medication known as Salix or Lasix. It claims it should be banned because it is "performance-enhancing."

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association said the morning of March 20 it is in the process of preparing a statement on the PETA investigation and the Times report.

The New York Gaming Commission (NYGC) said March 20 it is investigating allegations of "abuse and mistreatment" of Thoroughbreds after receiving information gleaned from the undercover investigation. Also, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) acknowledged receipt of PETA's information and said it will also initiate an investigation and take action if warranted.

"The allegations and footage provided by PETA are extremely troubling, and we are fully investigating the matter," NYGC acting executive director Robert Williams 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."

KHRC spokesman Dick Brown said the regulatory body had received information from PETA but had not yet reviewed it.

"The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has received documents from the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals regarding allegations of animal cruelty last year by two trainers working at Churchill Downs," Brown said in a statement. "The commission staff has not yet had the opportunity to review the information. The KHRC will conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations and take appropriate steps once that investigation is concluded.

"The KHRC takes allegations of cruelty to animals very seriously," Brown continued. "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. The KHRC strongly encourages anyone who has knowledge of, or suspects incidents of abuse to animals, contact the commission immediately."

Others identified in PETA video or documents are attending veterinarians Joseph Migliacci, DVM, and James Hunt, DVM, and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.

The NYGC said it initiated an investigation March 18 and "will obtain and review all footage documenting the allegations." The NYGC Office of Veterinary Affairs, led by equine medical director Scott Palmer, VMD, Dipl. AVBP, is assisting in the investigation.

"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."

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