Zayat Stables has terminated Steve Asmussen and moved all 12 of its horses that were previously in the trainer's care following an internal investigation on the PETA report and video that published in the March 20 New York Times.
PETA's report and video included Zayat Stables' star racehorse Nehro, who was trained by Asmussen during the horse's entire racing career and apparent time frame of the PETA undercover investigation.
Details in the video include what is believed to be the voices of Asmussen's former chief assistant trainer Scott Blasi and an undisclosed blacksmith who were discussing the poor condition of Nehro's feet. Best known for his close runner-up performances in the 2011 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), Arkansas Derby (gr. I), and Louisiana Derby (gr. II), Nehro reportedly passed away from a quick bout with colic May 4, 2013 while in training with Asmussen at Churchill Downs.
"I am shocked, hurt, and disappointed beyond belief to think that some of the things on that video happened to any of my horses, especially Nehro," said Ahmed Zayat, owner of Zayat Stables, in a prepared statement.
"When I was able to get Steve on the phone (March 20), the first thing that came out of his mouth was that he hadn't seen the video yet and could not speak on behalf of Scott Blasi. It was mind-boggling to me the reaction. I got nowhere with him, and that's completely irresponsible and unacceptable to me."
Zayat said Blasi sent him a text message the evening of March 21 that apologized for the video incidents.
"I did not respond to that text," said Zayat. "It was unbelievably evident that I had been lied to all this time about Nehro's health, and God knows what else.
"At no point during Nehro's career did Steve Asmussen communicate or suggest to us that Nehro be retired," Zayat continued. "There was never ever anything communicated by Steve, Scott, or anyone in charge of Nehro's care to me or anybody else from Zayat Stables about any foot problems. I was in love with this horse, and crushed the day we learned of his death. Nehro was my all-time favorite and everyone knew what he meant to me and my family. It's horrifying to think that the video of his treatment is true and that Nehro suffered in any way. And to hear some of the inferences made towards me on that video are disgusting and intolerable," he added.
"In an industry that needs transparency now more than ever, I am standing up for horses and owners alike by showing that this behavior is unacceptable. Steve Asmussen is a very successful trainer who we've had a great deal of racing success with. But I will not stand for this. I have removed all of our horses as swiftly as I possibly could from Steve Asmussen's care, and going forward they'll be in an environment where they will get the best care possible, as well as one that has an honest and open line of communication.
"Our industry deserves transparency for us all to be properly informed to make decisions that are right by the horse, so that things like this won't happen. I have moved my horses to other trainers, and I am evaluating with my advisors what other rights I may have or actions I should take in connection with this matter. My confidence has been badly shaken, and we will be more diligent in employing people we can trust. We will never tolerate anything less," Zayat said.
Over the past few days, Zayat was able to coordinate the logistics for moving all 12 horses from Asmussen's stables scattered at racetracks around the country, including Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots, Oaklawn Park, Sam Houston Race Park, and Aqueduct Racetrack.
The group, which most notably includes four-time graded stakes-winning millionaire Prayer for Relief , have been evenly dispersed between trainers Dale Romans, D. Wayne Lukas and upstart conditioner Michael Wilson.
Romans and Lukas have been regular trainers for Zayat Stables, while Wilson, who will have a string of horses in New York, is a rising horseman who Zayat believes embodies the qualities to be a successful, horse-friendly, and owner-friendly trainer of the future.
"Michael Wilson is a talented horseman and great communicator," Zayat said. "He represents what the future of this game needs—somebody who genuinely cares about the welfare of the horse, his craft, and his owners. Zayat Stables is delighted to be working with such a sharp, dedicated, and responsible young trainer, and we will continue to seek out the horsemen who can take this industry to where it needs to be."
Romans has taken over training duties on Prayer for Relief, who is slated to run in the March 29 New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) at Fair Grounds. Two horses, Selway and Skinny, were scratched from races Asmussen had entered them into last weekend at Oaklawn and Fair Grounds, respectively. Skinny has moved into the care of Romans, and Selway has moved into the Lukas barn at Oaklawn.