Horse Racing

Top trainers at Gulfstream charged by feds in a widespread horse-doping scandal

Two of Gulfstream’s leading trainers, including the handler of 2019 Florida Derby winner Maximum Security, were charged Monday in a sweeping federal investigation into the illegal doping of thoroughbreds.

Among those indicted: Jorge Navarro, whose local ties go back to Calder Race Course and who was the leading trainer during last year’s championship meet at Gulfstream Park, and Jason Servis, who directed Maximum Security to victory at Gulfstream last year in Florida’s biggest race, the Florida Derby.

Twenty-five others also were indicted in a wide-ranging federal investigation into the administering of Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PEDS, to horses at racetracks around the country.

The indictments, handed down Monday by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, allege that trainers, veterinarians and drug manufacturers worked in concert to create and distribute to racehorses synthetic PEDs that avoided detection during testing after victories.

The arrests came during raids at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach and Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach on Monday. Both facilities, and Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, are owned by the Stronach Group, which hasn’t been connected to any of the alleged wrongdoing.

The company issued a statement Monday, saying it complied fully with the search warrants carried out by federal authorities.

The news hit hard in a sport already reeling from other forms of competitive gambling and a rash of breakdowns — or horse deaths — last year, primarily at Santa Anita.

“There is no room in our sport for anyone who does not prioritize the health and well-being of horses and riders,” the Stronach Group said in a statement. “As this matter is under federal investigation we will not be commenting further at this time.”

Navarro was the leading trainer during last year’s championship meet at Gulfstream, meaning his horses won the most races. Servis, whose wins included Maximum Security’s Florida Derby victory, finished third. Horses trained by Servis won 45 percent of their Gulfstream starts last championship season, a staggering clip where 20 percent is considered a fine year. The meet ran from December 2018 through March 2019 at the Hallandale Beach track.

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Maximum Security also initially won last year’s Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified afterward for interference. Federal investigators say Navarro administered illegal PEDs to a top-ranked sprinter named XY Jet before wins in Florida and the world’s largest prized race in Dubai.

XY Jet, an 8-year-old gelding with more than $3 million in earnings, died of a heart attack in January.

Kitty Block, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, on Monday called the alleged misdeeds “reprehensible” and released a statement saying the latest scandal to rock horse racing was “likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

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“In the last year, we’ve seen more than 40 horses die at a renowned track, a hall of fame trainer banned by multiple tracks able to simply hopscotch to another state, a Triple Crown winner’s drug results covered up and now 27 trainers, vets and drug distributors indicted. These individuals and the industry must be held accountable,” she said.

The 44-page indictment unsealed Monday includes intercepted phone calls between Navarro and others including Servis. In one call, prosecutors allege, when Servis told Navarro he used the drugs “on everything almost,” Navarro became spooked and said he didn’t want to discuss it over the phone.

The indictment accuses the trainers and others of imperiling the health of the horses between 2017 and 2020 by “administering to race horses unapproved drugs whose chemical composition is unknown” and that the methods used to administer the drugs “can injure, and in extreme cases, kill the horse.”

Servis and Navarro were charged with conspiracy to adulterate and misbrand drugs.

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The indictment also says the PEDs used masked a horse’s “ability to feel pain, thereby causing the horse to over exert itself during periods of intense exercise, which can lead to accidents, broken limbs, or death.”

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