Move over baseball and cycling, horse racing is the latest industry to be in the forefront in the abuse of performance enhancing drugs (PED).
Trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro were among 27 individuals indicted Monday in U.S District Court on doping-related criminal charges. Servis trains the current top thoroughbred in North America, Maximum Security who crossed the wire first, but was disqualified by the stewards in last May’s Kentucky Derby.
The two trainers were listed in a 44-page indictment resulting from “a widespread, corrupt scheme by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, PED distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses under scheme participants’ control,” prosecutors said.
To avoid detection of the doping of the horses, “the scheme participants routinely defrauded and misled government agencies, including federal and state drug regulators, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, various state horse racing regulators, and the betting public,” according to the indictment.
Various types of PEDs used were outlined by U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman of the Southern District of New York in a news conference in New York City on Monday. One of the PEDs named was SGF-1000, a drug allegedley provided by Servis “to almost every horse he trained, including Maximum Security,” said Berman.
The customized PED is used to promote tissue repair and enhance stamina and endurance in racehorses.
“SGF-1000 is manufactured and unregistered and is promoted as containing growth factors intended to increase a horse beyond its natural abilities, therefore increasing the risk of injury,” said Berman.
Servis’ winning percentage, called out by many observers as outside the norm, was 29 percent in 2019 and a whopping 32 percent in 2018. His most successful horse, Maximum Security, won the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup on Feb. 29 in Saudi Arabia and is the top-ranked horse in the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s weekly Top Ten poll.
Berman lit into Navarro during the news conference stating he “trained and doped horses at the highest level.” His most successful horse was XY Jet, who won the 2019 Dubai Golden Shaheen in the United Arab Emirates, a $2.5 million race.
“XY Jet was regularly doped with misbranded and unadulterated blood enhancing drugs in a callous effort to increase that horse’s performance,” said Berman.
XY Jet died of a heart attack Jan. 8.
Navarro’s statistics for the last two calendar year mirror Servis’ with winning percentages of 28 percent in 2019 and 34 percent in 2018. Both trainers house their horses at Monmouth Park during the summer meet and winter in South Florida.
The feds called Navarro’s scheme the “Navarro Doping Program” throughout the indictment and a call intercepted between Navarro and trainer Nicholas Surick, a trainer who supplied Navarro with the customized drug called “red acid” was damning (pictured above).
“You know how many [expletive] horses he [Navarro] [expletive] killed and broke down that I made [ ] disappear….You know how much trouble he could get in…if they found out….the six horses we killed.”
The FBI Assistant Director in Charge of the New York office, William F. Sweeney Jr., said during the news conference that federal agents were investigating “a different case, on a different topic all together,” before stumbling onto the doping scheme. “One thing led to another and this information came forward,” said Sweeney.
Sweeney credited the U.S. Attorney, the New York State Police, the DEA, the FDA and the NYPD’s Organized Crime Task Force for assisting in the investigation.
“Today’s arrest should put anyone who chooses to follow in the footsteps of those charged today in the doping scheme on alert,” Sweeney said.
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.