The Target of Cheaters: Other Horsemen - By Frank Angst

In 2016 I wrote a story for BloodHorse documenting how 16 horses that registered clenbuterol positives following 18 starts in Florida in 2012-13 when trained by Kirk Ziadie enjoyed success they never registered again.

The positives led to a six-year-suspension recommendation for Ziadie, who had watched those horses earn $154,275 in purse money in those 18 races. While those 18 starts represented just 3.5% of their racing careers through 2015, the purses earned represented 10.2% of their career earnings.

Flash forward to 2020 where—if the allegations of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York are true—indicted trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis would call Ziadie’s efforts small potatoes. The March 9 indictments of 27 trainers, vets, and others in racing outline years of a systematic, covert administration of performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses competing across the United States and abroad.

The target of this alleged venture: the pockets of other horsemen.

While the U.S. Attorney’s indictment outlines use of performance-enhancing drugs in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and Dubai, let’s keep it simple and focus on the Garden State. In recent years Monmouth Park served as the summer base for Servis and Navarro. In 2019 their horses earned $4,359,488, or 16% of the purses awarded last year at Monmouth.

When I did the story on the Ziadie horses, I talked with trainers who had claimed those horses and saw little-to-no success. But, on the record, they were reluctant to complain and, perhaps motivated by the camaraderie of the backstretch, some even complimented Ziadie.

It reminded me of the steroid era in baseball where surely honest players knew what was going on but said little. Their union opposed initiatives to expose the cheaters. That silence likely helped the cheating continue, resulting in financial loss by honest players—the pitcher demoted after giving up a home run to a steroid user; the clean shortstop benched in favor of a juicer.

Such silence might be ending in racing. In the days after the indictments, two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer Bob Baffert endorsed the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would give the United States Anti-Doping Agency oversight of racing’s medication rules and drug testing.

Monmouth-based horseman Glenn Thompson said if Servis and Navarro are found to be guilty, they essentially stole from every other horseman. He noted the allegations suggest the two trainers abused everyone’s trust at the Oceanport, N.J., track.

“I talked with Jason Servis a few times and even asked him about his high win percentage. He said he had owners who didn’t want him to start their horses unless they were 3-1 or lower odds. And, he did put his horses in good spots,” Thompson said. “That made sense to me—he looked me in the eye and told me that. Now this all comes out.”

So much for camaraderie.

In January 53 trainers signed a letter to Congress supporting the HIA.

“We understand the HIA is not without controversy among some of our colleagues, specifically regarding increased cost and regulation,” the letter reads. “But the sport finds itself amid an ongoing crisis of confidence, and the need to reform and restore the public trust more than justifies the necessary sacrifices.”

As a reminder, that letter was written before the March 9 indictments.

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