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PETA Accuses Top Horse Trainer Of Animal Cruelty Following Undercover Investigation

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After a four-month undercover investigation, an animal rights group has accused a prominent horse trainer of giving his horses unnecessary amounts of performance-enhancing drugs and using illegal electric shock devices to make them run faster.

The investigation, conducted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), used hidden cameras and microphones to document the staff of Steve Asmussen, a top thoroughbred racehorse trainer who holds multiple horse racing records and has won millions of dollars in horse race purses.

The probe took place at both Churchill Downs in Kentucky and Saratoga Race Track in New York from April through August of last year.

Released on Thursday, the video appears to show Asmussen's workers discussing a top-performing horse's feet being worn down to "nubs." One says they had to use superglue to keep its hooves together.

That horse, who was named Nehro, died of colic -- "a term used to describe a symptom of abdominal (belly) pain" -- in the back of a van on the day of the 2013 Kentucky Derby.

The man can also be heard discussing how he had a jockey use an illegal shocking tool on a horse. ("I'd tell [jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.], 'You got the máquina?'" he says.) He's also heard talking about employing undocumented workers and having them lie to the IRS.

PETA's video also purports to show prominent veterinarian Dr. James Hunt Jr. saying all of Asmussen's horses are given Lasix, or furosemide, a controversial drug that's banned in many countries but legal in the United States.

"They basically all run on it. It makes them lighter," the man PETA identifies as Hunt says in the clip.

Hunt did not immediately respond to request for comment from The Huffington Post.

Asmussen's lawyer, Clark Brewster, told HuffPost that electric shock devices were never used. He said the recorded dialogue in the video was just table talk about the use of buzzers "historically" and not specifically on his client's horses.

"We are reserving comment until we get specific allegations from PETA," Brewster said. "At this point it's just been a media blitz by PETA rather than any substance or information for us to respond to. I think ultimately people will see what this is, an effort by this organization to grandstand because they disapprove of horse racing."

Brewster said he's spent the past two days trying to get PETA to send him complaints but that PETA has declined to do so. PETA, however, says it had offered to provide Brewster with the complaints.

The animal rights group filed complaints with federal and state officials in Kentucky and New York after completing its investigation. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, a state agency that regulates horse racing in Kentucky, confirmed to HuffPost that it had received documents from PETA alleging animal cruelty "by two trainers working at Churchill Downs."

The Commission said it has not reviewed the information yet but that it plans to conduct a thorough investigation.

Churchill Downs could not be reached for comment. The Saratoga Race Track did not immediately respond to a request for comment from HuffPost.

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