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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


On Monday’s Ron Flatter Racing Pod,, 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 Is it too late to get my 2019 Eclipse ballot for champion three-year-old rescinded?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

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⚠ Before you comment

Our staff likes nothing better than to engage with the HRI Faithful and provide a forum for interaction on horseracing and sports. In that spirit, please be kind and reasonable; keep the language clean, and the tone civil. Comments from those who cannot comply will be deleted. Thank you.

26 Responses

  1. JP–
    That is quite a “morsel” that you included in your masterfully crafted article–i.e., that Chad Brown uses the indicted Kristian Rhein as his vet. As you note, Rhein is the vet who was associated with the use of SGF-1000 on Maximum Security because “they don’t even have a test for it”.
    It will be interesting to see who provides the Feds with additional information in return for the possibility of a lighter sentence…..
    This is far from over, and I agree with your sentiment that the Feds may be in the best position to regulate the horse racing industry since the industry itself and the states have proven incapable or unwilling to provide the necessary oversight. And the horses, the owners and the honest trainers continue to suffer as a result–as do the bettors and the fans.
    Chuck from Saratoga

    1. So you would believe the comments of an indicted trainer without confirming with the trainer if the information is accurate? Are you a journalist?

      1. Did nearly 48 hours of research. I misunderstood something I was told and repeated it. I was wrong and subsequently corrected error and apologized.

        As I’ve stated on Twitter, where I’m being trolled to death at the current moment for my lack of journalism, number of followers increased by 30 in one day. Considering the subject matter and state of racing in the world, it’s a lot.

        So the other 2100 words I wrote must have mattered.

        As for the story’s veracity, let’s see what happens and who was lying or telling the truth after the FBI completes it’s investigation. Let’s just say I like my chances and all cheaters should be worried.

        This is my last defense of a mistake here or on social media. I corrected the error, it’s all I can do right now, but stay tuned to this storyline…

        1. Hi John, I found initial post and subsequent replies, including GIF’s on Twitter very disturbing. Especially, those from supposed account of trainer named. Also, I was unable to see your reply in defense since I’m (@Wonderagain) blocked from viewing any posts or replies from your @johnpricci account. The block was surprising since I’ve always been a big fan. But, I’d respect the block if it was done purposely.

          Any way to know if that is really the trainer’s account and if so, is that really him Tweeting? Disturbing times.

          1. Sorry for the delay Mike, see response further down this thread…

  2. I think you make an excellent analysis of the 4 phases of doping. I did not know that regimen and i am a physican/longtime bettor. I do have empathy for all the honest people in horse racing who have had the “super’ trainer(originally coined by late steve Davidowitz}. literally steal money from their pockets. Whether it is the Mom and Pop stable who have one good horse and it is claimed by the juicer to move up and win, or an honest trainer such as Mark Hennig, Nick Zito, Pat kelly or Bobby Ribuado who cannot win at more than 10 per cent in the modern era , it is truly disturbing.
    i know we are all aware of the trainers who win at 25-35 per cent- it is right in the racing form or equibase, however i think more needs to be stated as to the owners who employ them. The attitude of many is just win baby like he late Al Davis said. They shift from one juicer to another and win at incredible rates too. Did you ever notice they are always on the cell phone in the winners circle bragging about their win to some other imbecile? Compare 2 eras ; 1980 owners Paul Mellon, Greentree Stable, Vanderbilt Henryk De Kwiatowski, Gene Klein etc, to 2020 “owners’ ; Joseph Besecker. Michael Dubb, Frank C Calabrese, Richard Averill, Robert Bone, Midwest ,etc. Quite a difference in class and horseman ship i would say.
    On a selfish note , I have made money betting super trainers off the claim or first time acquisition for the last 10 years. I consider it a form of animal abuse and i feel guilty winning in this way . i love the beauty of the horse , the colorful jockey colors and green grass of turf. It is a beautiful sport with a dark unseemly belly as i tell my horse racing friends. We can hope there will be meaningful change with this scandal but it is questionable at best. Take care Kevin in tampa

  3. JP,
    Your italicized reactions say it all.

    How will the remaining cheaters be found and the wannabees discouraged?

    Appearances by Graham Motion and Andy Beyer on this topic was too inviting for me to ignore the Byk show, but another guest, Alan Foreman, surprisingly impressed me as well. If I understood him correctly, he doesn’t support the Integrity Act in its current incarnation because he believes the USADA should be an independent arm of a central racing authority which encompasses a centralized investigative body.

    Motion’s credibility as an outstanding horseman whose success wasn’t obtained through cheating, and is someone who truly loves and understands the sport and its equine athletes, make him my prime candidate for Commissioner of Racing. It’s worth listening to him.

    1. Agreed! A national commissioner with TEETH. Racing has shrunk to 10-11 major tracks. Period!. It should be easy to centralize rules, controls and administration IF the self-serving bureaucracy of the various states had some brains and looked at the ‘long game’ results. But I fear that the parochial civil servant mentality of state agencies will balk at that prospect. (A subject of a much larger discussion)
      Someone like Motion would be perfect if, and a big IF, he had (virtual) sole authority and a big hammer!

  4. Now that ‘the feds’ have uncovered this, 2 points per favore:
    1- An embarrassment to the industry itself. In order to save the sport the always looming specter of corruption by soft peddling the info we all knew, they forced a more powerful agency to bring it to the national forefront and give a stimulus shot to PETA. (no pun intended)
    If this carries to Baffert, or any noteworthy trainer in California, it WILL lead to Feinstein getting her way and racing could be doomed in Crazi-fornia.
    2- This is the Justice Dept., not Albany or Kentucky with their ‘sweep it under rug’ penalties and no-teeth reforms. The feds will use pressure tactics on those already indicted to ‘give up’ others with more noteworthy positions. I KNOW how they work! And some owners, we can guess who they are, will spend big $$ and self exulting platitudes to keep their reputations (and their hands) clean. As Mark Casse said: A step forward–MAYBE. But remember the old axiom: You can win the battle but still lose the war!

    1. Rome is burning. Liked your remark about some owners and what we all knew. An earlier posting mentioned self-directed disdain for knowing and still accepting. My friend says he has to handicap accordingly because, hey, you never know what horse is gonna jump up and run lights out. He called the recent developments a good thing for racing, big picture wise. “They’re in the gate”-John Imbriale

  5. We report, you decide:

    According to one reliable HRI source, Chad Brown told him that “Dr. Rhein never did vet work for him so Rhein was misrepresenting that. He’d like everyone to know that!!!”

    1. Well since you refer to Rhein as she, you probably talked to the wrong person or don’t check your work before posting it. Either way, pretty lazy journalism.

      1. Joe, I made made a mistake, made the correction, and apologized for the confusion.

        As a trusted source asked about this and the ensuing Twitter flap, “what did they think of the other 2,100 words?”

        I learned a valuable lesson; the cliche about “no such thing as bad publicity”proved true:

        I picked up 15 new followers since yesterday.

  6. The Industry had their shot and failed. When the gates opened, all industry participants “REFUSED” to engage in any of it.

    Take your pick: Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Or Liars, Liars, pants on fire.

    Too little, too late. Time for the Feds and the Southern District to take over the oversight process. Who knows, maybe the Richard Dutrow’ case may even get another look. The guys in the suits did away with all due process in that case, and they most certainly had little interest in ever protecting the rights of any interests other than their own. Executives lining their pockets with silver all, and feeding quite well off the betting trough of public trust. Pissed and angry I am. I so had looked forward to introducing my grandchildren to the sport of racing. Maybe now, I’ll limit any field trips to the Breakfast at Belmont where the morning side of the sport still carries a sense of innocents. The afternoons? For now, only distrust and sense of Innocents Lost.

    When will it end? The Sport itself or Chicanery of Greed that assaults all of us. That’s the Sixty-Four Thousand Dollar Question, and even the phrase in itself became tainted. Chicanery doesn’t come close to capturing this latest display of our moral bankrupty.

    1. Well said, McD. The ‘win at all costs’ mentality has crippled our game, our country, and horse racing.
      The owners will ‘skate’ with their self-righteous day after platitudes and the track operators will go through the banal formalities that we are so used to. Maybe, just maybe, after this investigation and meting of justice is over, some moral and legal equilibrium will return to the game we all love.

      1. Well said. Both the attitudes & actions are not indigenous to racing, it’s a societal systemic mindset & why standardized Federal regulations are required & a Commission to uphold them.
        Canada has such a model/template, including a published “Schedule of Drugs”(re administration of THERAPEUTIC medications & tested ‘clearance’ times to ensure a level playing field. Their tests are equine based, not from lab rats.
        Like everything it requires continuous efforts & modifications to remain current with new challenges. Abuse of therapeutic medications remains at the forefront of concern as well as unnecessary (perceived) prophylactic dly administrations of medications for entire barns, which were truly meant to be administered as a course to treat specific health concerns

    1. The trolls, defenders and apologists have already done that; this story is probably all over the place. I won’t post link on my personal account. Let’s see who is left standing after FBI completes investigating.

  7. Andy Serling says that Chad Brown is “is not “a client” and has never been one.” If I had to believe one or the other I know who I’d pick.

    1. Andy Serling is close to Chad Brown and his job at NYRA is a little different than mine is at HRI.

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, of course. And I would expect any man to defend his friends.

  8. Waquoit, a terrific mudder. Just loved the slop. Along with Mugatea and ‘slew, I just headed for the cashier’s window. Ya’all know what I am talking about, right (what think, Alice? Yea, your probability right)?

  9. Katie, I think you understand the issues very well.

    What often gets lost is the abuse of legal medications to artificially improve performance.

  10. Mike Robertson,

    With respect to block you on Twitter, not sure how that happened. The blocks I make usually involve my political tweets, commentary that I consider my patriotic duty under the First Amendment–while we still have a First Amendment.

    Many Drumpf supporters, would-be autocrats, and enemies of federal oversight, such as the Koch Brothers, have been trying to blow up the Constitution from the inside–the real ‘Deep State’. But I digress.

    You can assume that the trainer’s Twitter account you refer to is real. The attacks are the result of a parenthetical phrase within a 2,100 word piece where I erroneously referred to one of the indicted as a “she,” which was wrong. I either misunderstood what my source said, or he/she was in error.

    Either way, I have corrected the mistake, apologized, inserted the word alleged as I should have done initially because it would be correctly referred to as hearsay in a court of law. Poor judgment on my part for sure. Again, mea culpa to all.

    However, one mistake does not disqualify the validity of a big-picture piece–which is a favored obfuscation tactic of the other side.

    Of course, there will be a lot more to this story which eventually will see the light of day, and some might be surprised–or not–by the new reveals. I can say more, but won’t. There may or may not be a lawsuit pending.

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