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Top race trainer Asmussen investigated in abuse of horses

Trainer Steve Asmussen (C) talks about his horses, Kentucky Derby hopefuls Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat, after early morning workout at Chur
Trainer Steve Asmussen (C) talks about his horses, Kentucky Derby hopefuls Daddy Nose Best and Sabercat, after early morning workout at Chur

By T. G. Branfalt Jr.

ALBANY, New York (Reuters) - Racing Hall of Fame nominated trainer Steve Asmussen, a two-time Eclipse Award winner whose stable has included Breeders' Cup Classic champion Curlin and Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra, is under investigation for allegedly abusing horses.

Asmussen's nomination to the Hall of Fame was put on hold on Friday while two state racing commissions conduct an investigation after a video surfaced appearing to show horses being drugged.

The National Museum of Racing announced it was in its "best interests" to table its nomination of Asmussen, known as one of the top trainers of race horses in the United States.

Asmussen is the target of probes by the New York State Racing Commission and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Communications, both organizations confirmed.

His attorney, Clark Brewster, was not immediately available for comment.

The investigations were begun after a video was posted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that appears to show Asmussen's top assistant, Scott Blasi, and other staff members injecting horses with various performance enhancing and pain-masking drugs.

In the video, posted on PETA's website, the assistant can be heard saying one horse, Nehro, "doesn't have any foot at all" in an apparent reference to the repeated application of Z-bar horseshoes on already damaged hooves.

Kathy Guillermo, senior vice-president of PETA, said the organization had known "for several years" about abuses in horse racing but that a 2012 New York Times article led the group to start an investigation into a "top training stable."

She said the New York State Racing Commission had told her the PETA video was serving as the basis for its own investigation.

The New York State Gaming Commission released a statement announcing the launch of a formal investigation, but declined further comment, spokesman Lee Park said.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission also has launched an investigation, said spokesman Dick Brown, who offered no further comment beyond a statement saying it takes the animal cruelty allegations "very seriously."

Guillermo said PETA's goal was to make sure sore or injured horses are not run and that routine drugging is stopped.

"The bottom line is that any trainer who is drugging a horse to keep him running should not be running that horse," Guillermo said. "That's what has to be stopped. That's what we're looking for ultimately."

(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)

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