BREAKING NEWS: Racehorse trainers, veterinarians charged in widespread doping scandal

By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson

By on March 9, 2020 with 13 Comments

Federal prosecutors have charged more than two dozen racehorse trainers, veterinarians and drug dealers in a “widespread, corrupt” scheme to dope horses to push them beyond their limits, increase profits and cheat the betting public.

“This is the most far reaching prosecution of racehorse doping in the history of the Department of Justice,” U.S. Attorney for Manhattan Geoffrey S. Berman said at a press conference today, adding that the care and respect due to the animals competing as well as the integrity of racing are matters of “deep concern” to his office.

According to the charges filed today, drugs used by the defendants in the scheme included “blood builders,” which are used to increase endurance and can lead to cardiac issues or death, “pain shots” and “nerve blocks” used to deaden a horse’s nerves, “red acid” used to reduce inflammation in the joints, and Viagra. Many of these drugs were manufactured in the United States in unregulated facilities, while some were smuggled into the country from abroad.

The defendants raced horses at tracks in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky and the United Arab Emirates. To avoid detection of their scheme, the indictment said, the defendants routinely defrauded and misled federal and state regulators.

Among those charged was Jason Servis who entered horses in 1,082 races between 2018 and 2020. Servis trained Maximum Security, a horse who crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby last year only to be disqualified later. The prosecutors said Servis gave performance-enhancing drugs to “virtually all of the racehorses under his control.”

Jorge Navarro, a Florida-based trainer who entered horses in 1,480 races between 2018 and 2020, with earnings above $13 million, was charged with running the “Navarro Doping Program.” One of his most successful horses was XY Jet, who won a $1.5 million purse in the United Arab Emirates in 2019, and, according to the charges, was administered many drugs. He died of a heart attack in January this year, at just eight years old.

“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,” Berman said. “And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ greed.”

We applaud the U.S. Attorney for acting against these individuals who have evaded accountability. But the charges filed today reveal just the tip of the iceberg. The horse racing industry is beset by a drug crisis that has contributed to the deaths of thousands of horses over the years. On average, nearly 10 horses died each week at U.S. racetracks in 2018, according to the most recent data available for thoroughbred racehorses from the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database .

The problem was created when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for horses and riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in serious injuries and death.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (along with dozens of groups in the racing industry and animal protection arena) support passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820 in Congress.

The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., would both ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing. The bill would also grant independent control over rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), an independent entity that oversees testing of athletes at Olympics competitions and many other sporting events held in the United States. Finally, the bill would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by USADA.

Please contact your members of Congress and ask them to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act this year. As the charges filed today show, we cannot let the industry continue on this dangerous path that can only lead to more pain and death for these animals.

Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Equine, Public Policy (Legal/Legislative)

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  1. Michele Jankelow says:

    Great! About time government noticed and acted on the tragic abuse taking place in horse racing! Time for the horses to be respected, cared for appropriately and managed by people with integrity!

    • Bev says:

      I agree. The horse racing business. As far as I am concerned has always been a dirty business. Horses joints don’t close until they are 5 years. Yet they are forcing young colts and fillies to perform past their physical ability. Resulting in
      Having to euthanizing the colts and fillies. Who have been pushed beyond what the can do. If they really cared about the horses. They would help them to develop into strong horses with the ability to perform at their best. So sad. There has to be a special place in hell. For those who cause these young horses so much pain and early deaths! Shame on them!

    • John Gorton says:

      Most Racing in the USA is run on the dirt – average 3 inches of dirt on a hard surface, that could support a railway line ! There is no natural ‘give’ like racing on grass, hence the terrible injuries & deaths that occur in USA Horse racing –
      I talk from experience, having ridden all over the World.

  2. Samantha says:

    A great and huge step in the right direction. I look forward to a day when all animal racing and animal-focused “entertainment” no longer exists. Get rid of it all.

  3. Betty Turtledove says:

    I thought it had to be something like this killing all those racehorses. Oh, God, I cannot heap enough shame on these people. Vets are supposed to CARE FOR their patients. To make them suffer and die for the sake of money is sickening and vile. I curse them all. I hope they draw long prison sentences.

  4. David John Sheehan says:

    Something is not right. “Doping scandal”, “indicted drug dealers”. Where does the media get their information? I did about one of research. The, “drug” in question is SGF-1000. It is not a drug. It is a supplement. It is produced by extractions from sheep placenta. In 2014, the FDA determined that the SGF-1000 had no effect. They said that the product did not improve performance nor was it detrimental. Due to the FDA finding, it was determined not to test for SGF-1000 since it had no value in horse racing.
    The company that markets SGF-1000 is Medivet Equine located in Kentucky. They are not drug dealers. I could buy SGF-1000 online right now. Please, do your homework!

  5. Kelley Bruchhauser says:

    Please investigate the Santa Anita Racetrack in Southern California. 38 horses have died under mysterious circumstances in the last 1 1/2 years and absolutely nothing is being done about it. Young horses are dying for NO REASON! Spectators are shouting illegal drug dosing!!!

  6. DM says:

    I hate to be negative, but while I respect and admire all efforts to help defenseless animals, I suspect there is no law that can be adopted that will adequately control the criminal-minded whose addiction is “winning,” at any cost. History clearly dictates how brazenly cunning these addicts are. And since they lack a conscience and they consider the defenseless horse victims mere profit machines, it’s not likely any laws will be cunning enough to sabotage their criminally-focused genius mentality.

    It would be a fitting form of justice if the law would make it mandatory for the criminal-minded horse abusers to be treated with the same drugs that they administer to their victims–if we can’t beat them, let’s join them, so to speak. They should also be banned from owning or being around horses.

  7. Jackie Thomas says:

    WHY do we have to mane, kill or hurt our beautiful animals??? ALL IN THE NAME OF PROFITS~~~~~~~~~STOP PLEASE!!!!

  8. Barbara Resheske says:

    Horse racing is abuse. Abusing an animal is now a felony thank you to President Trump for his compassion. The felons in this case need to be fined and imprisoned, as the law states. Please end horse racing, fixing animals to run by beating them is obscene. God have mercy on the animals😢

  9. Lana says:

    This is so awful. I feel so very sorry for these majestic animal. They are a sensitive and loving animals and should be treated as such. We have to be their voice as they can not tell us. God forgive us all for out greed.

  10. Ramona says:

    While I appreciate all that HSUS does regarding animal welfare, I am curious why HSUS has apparently not taken any action to try and stop horseracing in its entirety. It would seem that with the increased negative publicity of all of the deaths occurring at the Santa Anita track and now the federal indictment of numerous trainers, vets, etc., that there could be no better time to try and get a constitutional referendum to stop this industry. Especially in California. They told us that we could not end greyhound racing in our State (Florida), but it happened, and now other states are following suit. It took a lot of volunteers and grassroots involvement, and a fair amount of money, but it passed overwhelmingly. Why is HSUS not taking action in this regard???

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