Following a four-month-long undercover investigation conducted by the animal welfare group PETA last year, activists have unearthed disturbing footage of alleged abuse at one of the country's premier horse training facilities. On Tuesday, PETA filed complaints with federal and state agencies in Kentucky and New York, charging that horse trainer Steve Asmussen -- who ranks second in career horse racing victories and has earned more than $214 million in his thoroughbred ventures -- and his top assistant trainer, Scott Blasi, "forced injured and/or suffering horses to race and train."
According to the New York Times, which was given advanced access to the seven hours of video footage PETA recorded, the investigation found horse abuse to be "widespread and cavalier" at Asmussen's Kentucky-based operation:
Video clips and the report depicted the Asmussen barn and the backsides of two of the United States' most storied racetracks as places where horses were treated as commodities and given numerous joint injections as well as tranquilizers, painkillers and supplements ...
Blasi was recorded discussing injured horses, as well as how one of his jockeys, Ricardo Santana Jr., 21, used a buzzer to shock horses, a practice that is banned in racing.
Other recordings reveal Blasi acknowledging the chronic pain and foot problems endured by Nehro, one of Asmussen's horses who later died on the morning of the 2013 Kentucky Derby. As the Times reports, PETA's investigation implies that horses like Nehro, who was forced to continue training despite suffering devastating injuries to his hooves, are given massive amounts of drugs to keep them on the track -- a transgression for which Asmussen has already come under fire in the past:
In 2006, [Asmussen] served a six-month suspension after a filly he trained tested 750 times over the legal limit in Louisiana for the local anesthetic mepivacaine, which can deaden pain in a horse's legs. Instead of losing his livelihood, Asmussen turned his horses over to Blasi, who won another 198 races as the stable finished the year with more than $14 million in earnings.
Asmussen and Blasi are not the only ones under fire after PETA's investigation. The group's footage also shows prominent New York veterinarian James Hunt Jr. giving a horse furosemide, a controversial diuretic meant to stop exercise-induced pulmonary bleeding. In a conversation recorded on camera, Hunt revealed that many horses who receive furosemide do not actually need the drug -- but they're given it anyway, he told the investigator, because "it's a performance enhancer."
You can read more coverage of PETA's investigation at the New York Times. To learn more about steps that are already being taken to stop cruelty against racehorses -- such as the proposed Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which was first introduced in Congress in 2012 -- you can visit PETA's advocacy page. You can also contact your local representatives and urge them to support legislation to protect and defend racehorses.
[WARNING: Video contains graphic images.]