03/24/2014 4:48PM

Owner Zayat transferring horses from Asmussen stable

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ahmed Zayat with Nehro, the runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby.

Owner Ahmed Zayat said Monday he is parting ways with trainer Steve Asmussen, moving a dozen horses from his barn to three trainers on different circuits.

Zayat announced the decision on Twitter late Monday afternoon and confirmed the names of the trainers to whom those horses will be going in a phone conversation with Daily Racing Form.

Asmussen and his former assistant, Scott Blasi, are the subject of 10 complaints filed by the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which, among other things, allege animal abuse by the two horsemen in the form of overuse of legal medications.

Zayat said horses he had with Asmussen at Oaklawn Park will be going to D. Wayne Lukas. Zayat’s horses at Fair Grounds will go to Dale Romans and be moved to Churchill Downs. Finally, Zayat-owned horses at Belmont Park will be given to Michael Wilson. Wilson, a graduate of the Darley Flying Start program, also has worked for horsemen Richard Mandella, Bob Baffert, Doug O’Neill, and Ken McPeek. He has won nine races from 49 starters, including six on the New York Racing Association circuit last year.

Zayat said he made the decision to split with Asmussen because he believes Asmussen was not forthcoming about the physical condition of Nehro, the runner-up in the 2011 Kentucky Derby who died of colic on Kentucky Derby Day 2013.

Details of Nehro’s fragile feet were prominently discussed in a nine-minute video put out by PETA that accompanied its complaints about Asmussen and Blasi to state and federal agencies in Kentucky and New York.

Those complaints have sparked investigations by racing commissions in Kentucky and New York and led to Asmussen firing Blasi on Saturday after an 18-year association.

Zayat said he knew that Nehro had to be stopped on twice due to ankle problems but was never made aware that the horse had problems with his feet. In the video, one of Nehro’s feet is described by an unnamed farrier as “a little bitty nub.”

“News to me, never heard it before, very disturbing,” Zayat said. “Therefore, I was lied to, and if I was lied to, I can’t continue to keep my horses in an environment where I can’t trust the care that’s given.”

Zayat said he checked with three racing managers he had during the time Nehro was in training – Sohby Sonbol, Bradley Weisbord, and his son, Justin Zayat – “and none of them had ever heard about this foot issue regarding Nehro.”

After finishing second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes in 2011, Nehro underwent ankle surgery. He returned in 2012, winning an allowance race before running sixth in the Oaklawn Handicap; second, beaten a nose, in the Pimlico Special; and sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap. He missed the second half of his 4-year-old season with another ankle problem but returned in April 2013 at Oaklawn Park, where he finished fifth in an allowance race. He died three weeks later at Churchill Downs from a severe case of colic.

Over the weekend, Zayat instructed Asmussen to scratch horses he had entered Sunday at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn.

Zayat said he is “not making a generalization or passing judgment on Steve or Scott on abusing or not abusing” horses.

“Those are not the people I know,” said Zayat, who then called the whole situation “mindboggling.”

Owner Ron Winchell, who has a leading Kentucky Derby candidate in Tapiture and a leading Kentucky Oaks contender in Untapable, said through his racing manager, David Fiske, last weekend that he is keeping his horses with Asmussen.