On Monday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod, VSiN.com/podcasts, I shared this morsel: While reading the Southern District of New York’s 44-page indictment which included high profile “super trainers” Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, NTRA Pollsters received a notification from Alicia Hughes, Director of NTRA Communications, that read:
“In the woke of today’s announced federal indictment and allegations… including Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security…we are giving voters the opportunity to adjust their [ballots] if they so choose.”
At first, I was appalled by what initially appeared as an impropriety. But with due consideration, it provided a different prospective: Was Maximum Security worthy of my first-place vote? Is it too late to get my 2019 Eclipse ballot for champion three-year-old rescinded?
Then I consider Thoroughbred racing’s big picture: Servis is not an isolated case; far from it. There are too many trainers with win percentages comparable to Barry Bonds’ 73 home-run season. And everyone knows how Bonds did it.
In a larger context, then, are the past performances of any of today’s star racehorses, three-year-olds and up, males, females, turf and dirt runners, for real? Seasoned players think they already know that answer: “It would depend on who is training the horse.”
I am a horseplayer, therefore I’m a realist with a modest case of paranoia. Like anyone who bets on horses for a living or entertainment, all want to win. I am proof that super trainers, a.k.a. cheaters, cost me money–and it doesn’t really matter whether they win or lose.
The super trainer costs everyone; casual fans, serious players, peers who cannot compete on the same playing field and, unethical and immoral earnings notwithstanding, the vanquished wind up losing their horses to cheaters because win-at-all-costs owners seek out trainers with an edge.
The super trainer cost me money when I bet on them or against them. If I bet their horses that win, I’m not be rewarded commensurate to my risk. The crowd knows the super trainer’s horses won’t get tired. In fact, the horse re-breaks. The win payouts invariably are underlays.
But the super trainer costs me money when he or she—yes, there are female super trainers–loses, too. Here’s the scenario: I don’t like the super trainer’s horse and bet against him straight.
When I bet to win, I often save in the exacta with the super trainer on top. I can win but throw money and value away because, like the Lovin’ Spoonful, I believe in magic. I’m not alone in this. The situations may change but players make savers out of fear of the super trainer.
Like most who love the game, I welcomed Monday’s news with dread and relief. At last, something! But the problem is not the next shoe that will drops–hinted at Monday’s news conference, it’s shoes that might fall like so many raindrops.
What many suspected turned out to be true, in spades. They were designer drugs, undetectable because if a substance contains 100 compounds when you add one more the entire dynamic changes, yielding a negative or false positive.
Or, as Kristian Rhein DVM, who allegedly said he* also has four-time Eclipse champion trainer Chad Brown as a client, might say, don’t worry about using SGF-1000 on Maximum Security, a substance with growth properties that allow a horse to perform beyond its natural ability because “they don’t even have a test for it.”
There are four phases attached to creating “the juice horse.” It starts with EPO, the blood doping agent associated with the Lance Armstrong case; extra red blood cells for that extra energy.
Next are outlaw-lab created custom analgesics which acts as a “pain shot” or joint “blocker” would. The hop part of the cocktail, SGF-1000, allows a horse to outperform because it will overexert itself, which can result in death via cardiac arrest.
For good measure, misuse of legal medications clenbuterol and Lasix, when used in tandem after exercise, flushes illegal substances out of the system. If used pre-race, this cocktail results in illegally enhanced performance.
That this was going on is no secret, and cheating is as old as the game itself. The modern barometer is inordinately high win percentages. The difference between an excellent trainer, winning at 20%, and a drug whisperer routinely batting .300 or higher, is the vet work.
What is truly immoral, however, are veterinarians who take an oath to “do no harm” and care for an animal, but instead administer substances that can injure or kill, becoming drug-dealing pushers in the process, reprehensively disgraceful.
Predictably, the industry response was defensive, mealy-mouthed with an occasional sprinkle of soaring rhetoric. Here are some truncated statements culled from industry press releases. [When moved to do so, HRI’s reaction appears in italics below].
Statement from New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
“…While today’s charges are painful to read, the system ultimately worked how we would want – a thorough investigation appears to have uncovered wrongdoing. Hopefully, horseracing will be the stronger for it.”
[Racing did nothing. This was an FBI sting operation that began when they accidentally happened upon this information while working another case].
Statement from The Jockey Club
“[Monday] the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York announced the indictment of 27 individuals in connection with doping in the horse racing industry. The Jockey Club has long been an advocate for drug reform in racing and we commend the actions of the FBI, the Department of Justice, and their collaborating enforcement agencies.
“…We acknowledge that indictments are not convictions and charges are not conclusive of criminal guilt. Nevertheless, these events make it clear that federal law enforcement officials view the conduct alleged as serious, unlawful, and warranting substantial attention.”
[This would have been a good time to reaffirm its role in helping to kickstart this type of investigation and at this seminal moment underscore the need to get 2019 Horseracing Integrity Act passed.]
Statement from the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA):
“…The biggest beneficiary of the FBI investigation is undoubtedly the proposed Federal legislation, The Horseracing Integrity Act, currently making its way through Congress and strongly backed by WHOA… Nothing but legislation can correct these deficiencies.”
Statement from the American Association of Equine Practitioners
“The AAEP’s Professional Conduct and Ethics Committee has been informed and our internal review process will soon begin to ensure a fair and thorough evaluation of the events. The AAEP’s authority, however, is limited only to membership status in the association… It is the ethical obligation of AAEP members and all veterinarians to adhere to the highest standards in order to protect the racehorse and the integrity of the sport.”
[Ya’ think? The trick may be finding some wrists to slap.]
Statement from the National HBPA
The news today of the indictment returned against racehorse trainers, veterinarians and others involved is extremely troubling. The National HBPA focus has always been, and remains, the health and safety of the horse… and we strongly oppose the behavior alleged in this indictment… Horsemen and horsewomen in this industry truly love their horses and want to ensure each horse is given the highest-quality care in accordance with the rules of racing.
[But don’t expect us to jump on the anti-raceday medication bandwagon]
Statement from Woodbine Entertainment
“While today’s news is very disappointing, it’s a necessary development and further evidence that horse racing requires a higher level of coordinated regulation across all North American jurisdictions. to everyone who contributed to this investigation…”
Humane Society of the United States Statement
“The reprehensible actions described in the racehorse doping scandal announced today are likely just the tip of the iceberg. 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 – including the trainer of a horse who just won the world’s richest race with a purse of 10 million dollars… These individuals, and the industry, must be held accountable. Congress needs to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act.”
[This isn’t PETA, it’s right there in the name, The ‘Humane’ Society].
New York Racing Association Statement:
We will continue to work closely with the New York State Gaming Commission and our industry partners across the country to advance meaningful reforms that protect the future of thoroughbred horse racing.”
[And perhaps get justice for the wrongful 10-year license revocation of a trainer with an extraordinary safety record for the Thoroughbreds in his care #NoCoverup].
Statement from the Stronach Group
“…We are at the forefront of industry leading reforms to protect the integrity of our sport and have instituted processes and protocols that have led to nationwide medication reform and increased transparency and accountability. There is no room in our sport for anyone who does not prioritize the health and well-being of horses and riders…
“As this matter is under federal investigation we will not be commenting further.
[That’s understandable, but not putting the Horseracing Integrity Act front and center at this critical time is an opportunity lost. No state is an island].
Statement from Colonial Downs
“…Today’s news is very disturbing and detrimental for our industry, but also hope that it is a wakeup call and move towards reform at all levels in the horse racing world…]
[I wonder where Virginia stands with respect to the 2019 Horseracing Integrity Act]
Statement from ARCI:
“Today’s indictments are good news in that they demonstrate the multiple layers of enforcement and the tools available, including wiretaps, that exist to police this sport… The takeaway for everyone involved in racing is simple: don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time. Putting one over on the lab does not mean you won’t be eventually caught.”
[Self-preservation… and what about Ed Martin’s Emails in the Dutrow case?]
CHRI: Immediate Passage of Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019
The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity (CHRI) called on the House and the Senate to immediately pass the Horseracing Integrity Act of 2019… By uncovering this ‘widespread, corrupt scheme,’ the FBI and the Justice Department has exposed to the world what we have been saying has plagued our industry for too long — an accepted culture of doping in racing, and the complete inability of the current anti-doping system to stop it.”
Statement from NTRA
“…We support the effort to bring these charges to light and are hopeful that their swift adjudication will help assure other horse racing participants and the public at large that our sport will not condone or tolerate the behavior alleged in the indictments.”
[Apparently the publicity arm of the racing industry does not want to jeopardize access, instead taking no position on the HIA in a time of crisis]
Statement from Thoroughbred Safety Coalition:
“…Safety and integrity will always come first for the members of the Coalition, which is why restricting medication and improving testing is one of the main pillars in our reform platform… The administration of illegal substances to racehorses cannot be tolerated by the Thoroughbred racing community.”
[But it took the FBI to find it. How can a Safety Coalition ignore input from a funded, independent source]?
The U.S. Trotting Association
“(The USTA) has been cooperating for several years with official investigations, several of which now have reached the indictment stage in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York… it’s essential to the administration of justice and to the health of our industry for anyone with knowledge of possibly illegal activity to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.”
To oversee federal testing procedures instituted by USADA, The Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority (HADA) would be responsible for developing and administering a nationwide anti-doping and medication- control program.
HADA would be governed by a board composed of six individuals who have demonstrated expertise in a variety of horse-racing areas, six individuals from the United States Anti-Doping Agency, and its chief executive officer.
USADA is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the U.S. Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports and its independence from sport is critical for ensuring adequate oversight over doping in horse racing.
As stated yesterday, what started on Monday will end one of two ways; the passing of federal legislation to do what the industry has failed to do, or the passing of betting on horse races altogether; no more complicated than that.
When and if such time comes, consider a sound challenge from Southern California journalist and racing writer, Art Wilson: “If I was a trainer not indicted [Monday] but one with a seedy reputation, I’d want my barn immediately investigated to prove I’m clean, if I was clean…
*correction made on 031120