Top American runner Maximum Security could be stripped of his title as last year’s champion American three-year-old colt as part of the fallout from this week’s shocking news that his trainer Jason Servis is among 27 defendants facing dope-related charges in the US.
On Monday, the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York unsealed indictments alleging that the 27 individuals listed, among them trainers and veterinarians, were part of a “widespread, corrupt scheme by racehorse trainers, veterinarians, PED (performance-enhancing drug) distributors, and others to manufacture, distribute, and receive adulterated and misbranded PEDs and to secretly administer those PEDs to racehorses under the scheme’s participants’ control.”
Listed in that indictment were trainers Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro and Nicholas Surick, alongside veterinarians Erica Garcia, Seth Fishman, Gregory Skelton and Kristian Rhein and other individuals including Marcos Zulueta, Michael Tannuzzo, Ross Cohen, Lisa Giannelli, Jordan Fishman, Rick Dane Jr., Christopher Oakes, Michael Kegley Jr., Alexander Chan, Henry Argueta, Rebecca Linke and Christopher Marino.
In a press conference on Monday, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York categorised the different PEDs in use as customised blood builders, pain blockers, bronchodilators (designed to increase a horse’s oxygen intake) and bleeders (used to reduce bleeding in a horse’s lungs).
“Today’s unsealing of four indictments for widespread doping of racehorses is the largest ever of its kind from the Department of Justice,” said Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman. “These defendants engaged in this conduct not for the love of the sport, and certainly not out of concern for the horses, but for money. And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ greed. The care and respect due to the animals competing, as well as the integrity of racing, are matters of deep concern to the people of this District and to this Office.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. added: “These men allegedly saw the $100 billion global horse racing industry as their way to get rich at the expense of the animals that were doing all the hard work. Our investigation reveals the cruelty and inhumane treatment these horses suffered all to win a race. The FBI New York Joint Eurasian Organized Crime Task Force worked along with our law enforcement partners at the New York State Police, FDA, and DEA to stop this ring of criminals from abusing helpless animals simply so they could cheat the odds and rake in millions of dollars.”
The news has rocked American racing, not least because it involves two of the nation’s most successful trainers in Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro.
Only last month, Servis saddled Gary and Mary West’s homebred Maximum Security – a former $16,000 claimer – to win the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in Riyadh. Prior to that, he had sent the colt out to win last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby, Haskell Invitational and Cigar Mile and finish first past the post in the Kentucky Derby, in which he was controversially disqualified. He has won just over $11.8 million in prize-money.
Such a record sealed three-year-old championship honours. However, should the indictments result in either a conviction or a previously undetected positive in a retested sample, then the colt could very well become the first Eclipse Award winner to be stripped of his honour.
Servis is alleged to have “doped virtually all horses under his control, including Maximum Security”. The indictment went on to highlight that “among the misbranded and adulterated PEDs used by Servis was the drug ‘SGF-1000’, marketed and sold by defendant Michael Kegley Jr., among others, and which is compounded and manufactured in unregistered facilities. SGF-1000, like many other customised PEDs, may cause racehorses to perform beyond their natural abilities, thereby increasing the risk of injuries.”
On January 1 this year, it was announced that a 50% share in Maximum Security had been sold to the Coolmore partners, and it was in Michael Tabor’s colours that the colt won in Saudi Arabia. He is due to stand at Ashford Stud in Kentucky upon retirement.
On Tuesday, Gary and Mary West issued a statement outlining the removal of their horses from Servis’ care. They include Maximum Security, who is due to join Bob Baffert.
Navarro trained X Y Jet to win last year’s Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen at Meydan in Dubai. The gelding, a $3.1 million earner, was specifically named in Navarro’s doping programme: “As alleged, Navarro was intercepted during telephone conversations discussing his doping practices, and administered PEDs to XY Jet. Among Navarro’s preferred PEDs were various ‘blood building’ drugs, which, when administered before intense physical exertion, can lead to cardiac issues or death.” X Y Jet died of a heart attack in January.
Navarro also trained Sharp Azteca, now a stallion at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, to win the 2017 Grade 1 Cigar Mile.
The trainer is also alleged to have “operated his doping scheme covertly, using a straw man to receive certain products designed to mask the presence of PEDs, avoiding explicit discussion of PEDs during certain telephone calls, and working with others to coordinate the administration of PEDs at times that racing officials would not detect such cheating.”
Both Servis and Navarro were arrested on Monday in Miami and were each charged with two counts of ‘Misbranding Conspiracy’, which carries a maximum penalty of five years. They were released on bail and are due back in court for their arraignment on March 23.
The New York Gaming Commission announced on Tuesday that it had suspended the licenses of 11 people named in the indictment, including Servis and Navarro.