Horse racing, already in the midst of a crisis over the number of equine fatalities in the sport, was dealt another severe blow to its credibility when federal authorities charged 27 people in a horse drugging scheme. Among those was Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security, the recent winner of the $20-million Saudi Cup.
Federal prosecutors in New York put forth the indictments alleging “widespread, corrupt schemes by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, [performance enhancing drug] distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute and receive unadulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses.”
No California-based trainers or veterinarians were named in the indictments. The doping scheme was alleged to have occurred in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and the United Arab Emirates.
The indictment said that trainer Jorge Navarro was the mastermind of the scheme. One of his best horses, X Y Jet, died of an apparent heart attack after receiving multiple injections of PEDs, according to the indictment. It’s also alleged that X Y Jet won the prestigious Dubai Golden Shaheen after receiving PEDs.
X Y Jet was partly owned by Rockingham Ranch of Sherman Oaks.
The indictment also referenced a phone call between Servis and veterinarian Kristian Rhein in which Rhein allegedly assured the trainer that a PED given to Maximum Security couldn’t be detected in a test.
Maximum Security was disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby because of interference. He is owned by Gary and Mary West of San Diego. It’s unclear if Maximum Security will be removed from Servis’ care and moved to another trainer or if the horse will be retired for fear of damaging his reputation should he perform poorly under another trainer.
The Stronach Group, which owns the Santa Anita and Gulfstream courses, scratched all of the horses entered by Servis and Navarro at Gulfstream, where the trainers are currently racing. It will also refuse any subsequent entries until the matter is resolved.
Last year, TSG banned trainer Jerry Hollendorfer from all tracks owned by the company after six of his horses died at Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields. No criminal activity was alleged in Hollendorfer’s case.
The announcement of the indictment had animal rights groups calling for the immediate passage of the federal Horse Racing Integrity Act. The bill, which is more of a concept than actual plan, would create federal oversight of race horse medication. It has bipartisan support and will likely pass the House this year.
However, its future in the Senate is less clear despite the bipartisan support. The bill is not supported by Churchill Downs Inc., in Louisville, Ky. The bill would have to be brought to the floor by one of that state’s senators, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican.
On Tuesday, the California Horse Racing Board will release its report on the fatalities last year at Santa Anita. The report looks at 23 of the 30 horses that died in the winter/spring meeting.