04/01/2010 11:00PM

Zayat cleared by Kentucky commission


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Ahmed Zayat, the owner of Kentucky Derby contender Eskendereya, has been cleared to race in Kentucky after an inquiry into his associations with convicted bookmakers, according to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officials.

Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the commission, said on Friday that a four-week investigation into the matter did not uncover any compelling justification to deny Zayat the privilege of running his horses in the state.

"We take matters of integrity seriously in Kentucky, but we've determined that there's no reason to suspend his license in Kentucky," Underwood said.

In papers filed in bankruptcy court earlier this year, Zayat listed four outstanding loans he had made to members of the Jelinsky family from November 2006 to February 2008 totaling more than $600,000. Two members of the family, Michael Jelinsky and Jeffrey Jelinsky, pleaded guilty to charges of illegal bookmaking early in 2009.

Zayat had contended that he did not know the brothers were involved in bookmaking when he provided the loans. The Jelinksys are serving prison sentences. They lived in Las Vegas at the time the charges were brought and adjudicated, but are natives of New Jersey, where Zayat has his primary residence.

On Friday, Zayat said he was "obviously pleased" with the racing commission's decision. Eskendereya was scheduled to run on Saturday in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in New York as the favorite.

"I was confident that there was no reason to suspend my license," Zayat said. "We cooperated fully in the investigation, they treated me very well, and they are very professional people."

Though Zayat rarely races in Kentucky, a suspension in one jurisdiction can provide others with legal cause to suspend a license. Zayat had earlier been cleared to race in California, where most of his horses are based.

A probe remains ongoing in New York, according to the state racing and wagering board spokesperson, Joe Mahoney, and is unlikely to be wrapped up before the Wood.