By Matt Hegarty
The New York Gaming Commission has completed an investigation into allegations made by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals against the trainer Steve Asmussen, officials of the commission said on Monday, with a report on the probe expected soon.
Dr. Scott Palmer, the equine medical director for the commission, said that commission officials reviewed “nearly eight hours of videotape” and “hundreds of pages of notes” provided by PETA as part of its claims against Asmussen. PETA made the claims in March of last year after posting a 9 1/2-minute video on the internet from footage filmed by an employee in Asmussen’s barn who was secretly recording video on behalf of the organization during a four-month period in 2013.
PETA has said the video and its notes provide evidence of widespread mistreatment of horses in Asmussen’s barn. PETA also provided audio recordings of employees and other racing participants discussing the use of electrical devices on horses, and it said its transcripts of some conversations of Asmussen employees revealed evidence of using undocumented labor.
Two weeks ago, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission released a report about its own investigation into PETA’s claims. The report exonerated Asmussen and was harshly critical of PETA’s tactics. The Kentucky report said that PETA provided the Kentucky Horse Racing Commissionwith a total of 30 minutes of edited video, but refused to hand over a larger trove of video footage. PETA also did not respond to a subpoena for the footage the organization claimed to have.
Palmer said the New York report will be presented to commission members before it is released to the public. It is not clear when commission staff expects to finish the report.
Also at the meeting on Monday, the commission amended its Thoroughbred out-of-competition testing rule to include any substance “capable of abnormally enhancing the oxygenation of body tissues.” According to commission officials, the new language will prohibit the administration of cobalt, a mineral that has been rumored to be widely abused in both Standardbred and Thoroughbred racing for its purported ability to act like a blood-doping agent.
In addition, Robert Williams, the gambling commission’s executive director, said at the meeting that the commission has been “gravely concerned and is thoroughly investigating” a recent spate of catastrophic injuries at Aqueduct racetrack. The commission is gathering data on the breakdowns and examining necropsy reports to attempt to identify risk factors for horses, Williams said.
Williams also said that the commission’s Equine Safety Review Board has begun to meet weekly, rather than monthly, in order to discuss the issues surrounding the breakdowns. The commission is also expected to put in place new protocols to investigate catastrophic breakdowns at New York tracks, Williams said.