After 10 months of investigating abuse claims against Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission on Thursday announced there was no evidence the Thoroughbred trainer violated any Kentucky rules or mistreated horses.
Asmussen, who had called the claims false, was not at the meeting. His attorney, Clark Brewster, said by phone afterward that they were pleased with the result.
"We're pleased Kentucky spent the amount of time they did to reveal the PETA piece for what it was — propaganda, overdramatized to condemn racing," Brewster said.
Last March, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals released undercover video of Asmussen and his assistant, Scott Blasi, that the group said was recorded in 2013 at Churchill Downs and Saratoga Race Course in New York. The undercover investigation was reported in the New York Times.
On Thursday, racing commission chairman Robert Beck, reading a prepared statement, said the investigation concluded that the PETA allegations could not be substantiated against Asmussen or Blasi.
Thirty minutes of video provided by PETA to the Kentucky officials raised "great concern" on first viewing, Beck said.
But "hundreds of hours analyzing the video and information gathered, interviewing witnesses, including Mr. Asmussen, Mr. Blasi and the PETA undercover investigator," among others, found no basis to support PETA's claims.
The video was extensively edited and dubbed, Beck said, "casting doubt on the credibility of the 'evidence' as presented by PETA. PETA refused to provide unedited materials and additional materials despite repeated requests from the KHRC."
The commission investigation found "Asmussen-trained horses were well cared."
Kentucky stewards concluded that no action was warranted, absent any substantiation of the PETA claims, Beck said. A separate New York investigation is ongoing.
Kathy Guillermo, PETA senior vice president, issued this statement after the commission's announcement: "The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has today distinguished itself for being as uninterested in horse welfare as the Syrian government is in human suffering. If there was nothing wrong in the documentation that PETA found, then something is very wrong with racing in Kentucky. ... The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, however, saw smoke and concluded that there is not only no fire but also that everything at the track and in Asmussen's disgraceful barn is just business as usual."
In a 10-page complaint last March, PETA alleged that their video showed horses being mistreated, including being given prescription shots by someone who was not a veterinarian.
The KHRC announced that the commission would investigate the claims of "widespread and cavalier" treatment of horses in the care of Asmussen, who had just been nominated for the Racing Hall of Fame.
The animal welfare group posted a 91/2-minute video online that showed Blasi referring indifferently to 2011 Kentucky Derby runner-up Nehro's apparent pain.
The high-profile case created a cloud of negative publicity that led some in the horse industry to swiftly distance themselves from Asmussen, who is one of the top Thoroughbred trainers.
Nehro's owner, Ahmed Zayat, removed the rest of his horses from Asmussen's care. Asmussen's name was removed from the Hall of Fame ballot and Jockey Club chairman Ogden Phipps suggested he stay away from Kentucky Derby weekend. Asmussen came anyway and his filly, Untapable, won the Kentucky Oaks.
Brewster said Thursday that allegations about Nehro, who colicked and died the morning of the 2013 Kentucky Derby, were "a hatchet job" and said Asmussen cooperated fully, turning over veterinary and training records to the commission.
"Nehro had congenitally small feet, and they were a management issue from the time he was a foal. But his feet were fine," Brewster said. "His feet were fine and did not contribute in any way to his demise."