SANTA FE, N.M. — The New Mexico Racing Commission is launching an inquiry into allegations of animal cruelty against renowned thoroughbred trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., following a New York Times report Wednesday on a four-month undercover investigation by the controversial animal-rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
According to the Times, a PETA investigator worked for Asmussen in the spring and summer of 2013 at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., and Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The unidentified investigator made numerous surreptitious videos and compiled a 285-page report documenting the alleged illegal activities of Asmussen, his chief assistant Scott Blasi, Santana and others.
Asmussen, who has won more than $200 million in purses during his 26-years career, is accused by PETA of animal cruelty and of labor and immigration violations. PETA also claims that Santana, 21, used an illegal electrical shocking device on horses during races. PETA filed complaints with federal and state agencies in Kentucky and New York earlier this week.
In one segment of the PETA video, Blasi jokingly calls Santana a “machine rider,” meaning a jockey who uses an illegal device to shock horses during a race to get them to run faster.
In another segment, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas laughs as he describes several jockeys using the devices – known as “buzzers” – during a race at Ruidoso Downs Racetrack. Lukas says the buzzing sounded like “a full-blown orchestra. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Zzz. Everybody had one.”
“We are very concerned with the actions documented in the video,” Vince Mares, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, said in a statement Friday. “A preliminary review reveals what appear to be two individuals (Asmussen and Santana) who are also licensees of the New Mexico Racing Commission. … Therefore, the NMRC will be conducting an inquiry into the actions of these individuals and will take disciplinary action as necessary.”
Mares noted that licensing standards in New Mexico require licensees to be of good moral character and integrity.
“We’re going to try to obtain a copy of the PETA investigation and see if it provides any additional information that might indicate illegal activities in New Mexico,” Mares said by phone Friday.
“There is a reference in there to Ruidoso Downs that really concerns us. We want to make sure we get all the facts. We are going to look into it,” he said.
On Friday, Asmussen’s name was removed from the ballot of finalists for the 2014 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.