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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


Anyone tethered to Thoroughbred racing knows what happened this morning as a result of an 11 AM news conference held by the Southern District of New York. And it had nothing to do with Donald Trump’ state taxes.

This was supposed to be the day to catch up with the great racing this past weekend beyond the Kentucky Derby preps, as was promised yesterday, and a short overview of the three-year division.

But when my Twitter feed blew up at 9 am, all perspective changed. How much it has changed is still ruminating.

At this writing I have not read past page 39 of the 44-page SDNY indictment and, absent that, I’m still processing what I’ve heard, read, researched or learned thus far from the report and trusted HRI industry contacts.

I know what I think I know but don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t even know how I feel at this moment. Disgusted? Sure. Confused? Obviously. Angry? You bet.

I need to finish the report, digest it all and collate, but this much is, at once, alleged yet crystal clear.

Maximum Security, widely held as the best dirt horse in the world, is a fraud, “a juice horse,”and his trainer, Jason Servis, is a massive cheat which, if allegations prove true, is felony grand theft beyond all proportion.

Further, it is also alleged that Servis conspired with and prolific winner, trainer Jorge Navarro, to house designer drugs which both used liberally, in Navarro’s case resulted in the death of prolific sprint winner X Y Jet, the victim of a heart attack.

What we’re talking about here is not sign stealing. And there are no deflated footballs involved. Once resolved, this problem will manifest itself in one of of two ways:

Either Thoroughbred rules and regulations will be set by the federal government, working in concert with the racing industry, or betting on horse races no longer will exist.

More Tuesday

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39 Responses

  1. It was inevitable . A question of when and not if. Totally amazing from the early days of Oscar Barrera with cheap horses(Shifty Sheik a 25k claimer who had Seattle Slew on the ropes) thru Dr. Wayne Wayne Lukas, on and on to the west coast Bob Baffert amazing abilities to take a horse to heights no mortal horseman could ever dream of.
    These trainers named today, were not really the top echelon guys. Someone has to keep this great sport from going under.
    This is not about stiffing horses. It appears to be an industry cancer with no turning back.

  2. JP,
    I also feel disgusted, but most of my anger is self-directed because for years now I’ve let myself ignore the statistical evidence pointing to what this investigation has confirmed.

    We may never know how widely this form of cheating occurs and the extent to which each supertrainer has engaged in this practice. Could phenomenal records like those of Baffert and Brown have been achieved without employing such substances? Were Justify, Arrogate, and Bricks and Mortar frauds like Maximum Security?

    Where is the collective will and manpower to implement Federal control of racing at a time of political, financial, and social upheaval? If the Stock Market continues its downward slide, racing will surely circle the drain with the rest of us.

  3. This is Steve Matthews, thoroughbred handicapper for Newsday. I won’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity:

    Here’s how I see it!!!

    This has gone on in horse racing since time immemorial. Only the most naive, stupid or just plain blind would disagree. Get over it. It’s a game of CHEATERS. Has been and always will be.

    I’ve pointed this out a long time ago, but once again, those that should have known better, buried their ostrich heads in the sand.

    Whenever I pointed out what these “SUPER TRAINERS” were doing (on this site as well as others)……I was give the stock reply: “They’re great Horsemen”…..Bahahaha…

    Who’s kidding who. It’s not just these guys. This list is runs far longer and reaches far deeper, with those of the ABSOLUTE FIRST RANK of the sport involved. You don’t need me to fill in the names.

    Will this tarnish the sport?…..How can you tarnish something that has decayed and eroded for decades and decades…..




    Sincerely, Steve Matthews

    1. Matthews,great value handicapper, we all mostly agree on what you pointed out, or as Russ Harris used to say :”only his vet knows for sure”. When I heard the “news” I was expecting harness trainers, you know, the usual suspects. As s public handicappers I figure that you must read the past performances lines with a grain of salt and lots of suspicion. ,,even in multi$$$ races. Imagine what happens to those 1000’s of cheapees all over the USA.

    2. Matthews,great value handicapper, we all mostly agree on what you pointed out, or as Russ Harris used to say :”only his vet knows for sure”. When I heard the “news” I was expecting harness trainers, you know, the usual suspects. As s public handicappers I figure that you must read the past performances lines with a grain of salt and lots of suspicion. ,,even in multi$$$ races. Imagine what happens to those 1000’s of cheapees all over the USA.

  4. Sadly, Mr. Mathews is correct. I recall harness horse owners I knew forty years ago discussing their milk shakes. As in some other sports, today’s technologies and more sophisticated drugs makes it far easier to both cheat thus risking the health of horses even more than in past days. What I do not understand is why US racing cannot or will not copy the European model and clean up our sport?

  5. JP—
    You mean to tell me that some horse trainers cheat? Shocking……
    Since a Kentucky Derby winner (sans dq) was involved, maybe this will finally be the wake up call the industry needs to clean up its act–but I doubt it.
    I believe that the most significant thing that comes out of this is that it took the FBI and DOJ to catch the cheaters. So much for the “integrity” efforts by the individual tracks or states. We saw the same thing in NY state government that even with all of the so called “watchdog” groups, it took the Feds to push out Spitzer, Silver, Skelos, et al .
    I agree that as long as there is horse racing, there will always be cheaters. But hopefully they will be caught and pay a steep price, since the horses are the innocent victims of their sordid abuse –as are the honest trainers and owners who actually care about the welfare of their horses.
    Chuck from Saratoga

  6. Who says that it does not happen in Europe? I have read articles on the contrary that price fixing, betting etc was involved, esp. In harness, a “sport” sans future. Those animals lots of times are “squeezed” like the other”juiced sport” with abused slim canines, greyhound racing which makes me wonder who is the real idiots: those poor hungry, drugged animals chasing a fake rabbit or those in the stands who bet on them??

    1. This is starting to sound like a Dick Francis novel. May head over to Barnes & Noble and snag a couple of his tomes. In 1984 he had one titled, “Proof.”

      1. A Day at the Races,Marx Bros movie, the Lemon Drop Kid, with Bob Hope,or Let It Ride,Richard Dreyfuss, seem more like my speed. Haven`t bought a book since Tom Ainslie`s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred racing…Then i got my ‘ libbary card’. Great investment !

  7. To All:

    Lots of passionate, heat-of-the-moment responses and, sadly, nothing I can disagree with in good conscience. Except for the part about “getting over it.”

    I will not get over it and never will stop fighting the good fight, however fruitless those efforts might turn out be. That’s the thing about technology: You don’t know, and can’t find out about, what you don’t know.

    HRI purports to be the ‘Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing’ and we try to live up to that lofty standard the best we can.

    Today, however, I will adopt the tagline from a newspaper I read when I visited Southern California recently:

    “No Guts; No Story.”

    I’ve finished Monday’s research and have read the Tuesday am news. Will start working on my take right now, hoping I cover most of the bases the HRI Faithful espoused in the comment section above.


  8. Wow! What a surprise! I didn’t know trainers cheated (right, Alice?). Back in the early eighties, when Oscar, Peter, and Gasper were the ‘super trainers’ I smartened up; I ignored all races where they had entrants. Then I got suspicious of all trainers that had a high win percentage and tried to not bet the races they had horses entered. First thing I look for in a race is the win percentage of trainers and usually pass a race that has a ‘suspect’. Ya know, ya’all will find numerous races every day where all trainers all below a 20% win percentage. Oh, and I usually ignore just about all stake races, where most ‘super’ trainers seem to congregate – must be the size of the purse that attracts them; which leads me to the question: what does size of purse have to do with cashing a ticket? And, another question: don’t all thoroughbred races look pretty much the same and offer the same payoffs?

    Still love the ‘game’, the thrill of the stretch if your plodder is in the hunt, and enjoying a Foster’s and pastrami sandwich when paid from winnings. Also, it’s Philly racing today; doesn’t get any better that this.

  9. Even within the HRI commentaries, I would often read an analysis of a race with an admonition that cautioned, just to be defensive, you shouldn’t leave Jason Servis or Navarro off of your tickets. I silently good cop vs bad cop countered within my own my moral compass of what’s right and what’s wrong, I could and would simply pass on any race with either trainer involved. I may not be one of the brightest handicappers out there, but I suspect that we all have a sense of when things are just not quite right, they’re not right. I suspect we all began question right vs wrong as far back kindergarten. I learned a while back to just pass on what I could not support and turn the page.

    With all of this now in public view, I would hope that maybe Mark Berner could find a path within his heart to return as an additional protective voice for the followers at HRI. For a long while, I have pretty much limited my wagering at this point to John Pricci’s ‘s free race selections, not so much because they are free, but more the fact that I have complete trust in John. I miss your commentary Mark Berner. I have such great trust in you as well. I love the sport, but sadly carry an inner sense of distrust of Baffert and Lucas types. Far too many young horses injured at only the outset of their journeys.

    I also now think back to comments Bob Debonis made regarding a horse that had been claimed off him by Oscar B. Debonis stated on one of the Harvey Pack shows something to the effect that his horse was lame when he left his barn and was then back in only seven days and wins for fun. We all know right from wrong, right? Yet we all allowed for it to continue unabated. Shame on all of us. Not all barns are corrupt however. I am somewhat comfortable with Pletcher however as John has such great trust in his operation. Johnnie V. as well. Suspect maybe this will have a positive side. Maybe some of the excellent smaller operations and less turned to honest horsemen of great character will now have a chance at competing once more.

    I have long contended that with the industry, the “fresh oats” of most sale had already been run through the horse. Who knew that with all the guys in the suits overseeing the sport of late, the actual stewardship and oversight so needed would evolve from the Southern District of New York. Thank God! Time to help clear the muck out of the stalls. Please come back Mark Berner. Your voice added to John’s would provide a breath of fresh air the so sport desperately needs. Do it for the honest horsemen and beleaguered fans. Thanking you in advance, Dennis

  10. Thank X mentioning Bob De bonis ‘ comment. It still resonates some 40 yrs later, .it made him look as bad as those few trainers who risked to claim Oscar Barrera’s strained horses. Moschera was of the same I’ll. Wonder why jockeys always claim omerta. Guess that cannot bite the hand feeds any price, dignity or guts esp. If you’re an outsider ,walker or outrider . Some former jocks should, even anonymously, come out of the closeted barn. If not you, who??


    1. Excellent handicapper friend who frequents The Player’s Club at Aqueduct would often wonder, sometimes out loud, HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that Servis runner could improve so drastically. Now the genie is out of the medicine bottle. I would ask him how he could handicap races where these “unknown” quantities were entered and he said you had to factor that in also. The game gets even tougher. “May the horse be with you.”-Harvey Pack

  11. I am baffled as to why there are not references to owners? Do owners not know what is going on with their horses and trainers? Much like the baseball scandal, the higher ups certainly knew who was doing what in stealing signs. Are owners absentee landlord types or just blind?

  12. I’ll have plenty to say in my column later this week, although J.P. is covering the field excellently.

    For now, I’ll just say that if they made a movie of this scandal, it would be funnier, in a dark way, than the scene in Casablanca where the local inspector is “shocked…shocked” that chicanery is going on in his jurisdiction.

  13. Imagine that: Someone who benefits from internet exposure “won’t hide behind the cloak of anonymity.” LOL

    I’d be surprised if MB didn’t share what he felt was important with the HRI faithful.
    I think upcoming blogs from JP and TJ on this topic could be their best yet.

    I was hoping Maximum Security would be tested up and down by independently-funded labs and vets for the presence and effects of the specified substance before Baffert took over the horse.

      1. “This is Steve Matthews, thoroughbred handicapper for Newsday.”

        Are you afraid anonymity would give your words less weight than they deserve?

        1. No, I did that because I wanted to be fully transparent . . . And I wanted people to know where I stand……If anything, it could hurt my reputation as a public handicapper, taking such a passionate stand…….But that’s me in the raw……Those that know me, would totally understand…..I Don’t believe my words carry anymore weight than anyone else’s …..It’s all just opinions and everyone has them….Just like —–, as they say….

          1. SM,
            I don’t understand how your posted opinions would hurt your reputation as a public handicapper.

            If your selections have been successful because of your professional awareness of cheating, it seems to me this debacle presents an opportunity to enhance your reputation.

            Anonymity issues aside, I totally agree that ‘… GAMBLING ON HORSE RACES IS ONE OF THE GREATEST PLEASURES THERE IS, …” My own half-century+ history with the game has required many adjustments, and my now weekend-only play will continue in declining fashion until reform actually occurs or I draw my last breath.

            I would, however, support a wagering boycott protesting the non-existence of a centralized racing authority. IMO Federal control of testing is insufficient. There are other forms of cheating going on.

  14. Failed to add recent Hall of Fame Trainer Asmussen to my “dishonorable mention” list of trainers to avoid. Not supporting his actions or those of his understudy Blasi as well. Both of their questionable activities provided indirect life support to PETA. How could anyone be supportive of their assaults against the sport of racing.

    The dated link below in my view is still current. Give me the boy’s character at the young age of seven, and you will have a better understanding of him at 35. Thinking much like in the Simpson case, personality and character seldom change.

    1. McD,
      If Asmussen was using something on Gun Runner, it was probably after Arrogate blew by him in the Travers. LOL

  15. Asmussen has been has been caught and wrist slapped even before bridgemohan was his main go to boy. .why am I mentally comparing this news to baseball ‘s yet “unpunished world series scandal ” with cheating astros and red sox and their owners?? Ps :Wonder who is trying harder get noticed,sm or those who are questioning his input. Wish more anonymous ” pickers” would have come out when there some half dozen horse racing scribes in the new York metro area. This sure does put another fog over this “sport of kings, millionaires and drug sellers/buyers” who are always a step ahead of being legit. If you’re not cheating you ain’t trying’!l..personally, won’t be betting or even checking, tabbing X a while as I did during X mad time. As my Nonna. Grampa, used to ask me: who is worse the bad guy or those who follow,revere him?? No respect !!

  16. Dislike writing from my ‘stupid smart phone’ leaving too many evident errors. Recouping; Bridgemohan was Asm.`s main guy before he gave up on him,.Now it seems to be Ricardo Santana the way was O. Barrera had one [ A.Smith ? ] when A.Cordero was not available.My Nonno, not Nonna…,she was too busy cooking and watching Wrestling ! Continual stuff ,bad news,like this one wont help the remaining and diminishing horse pages/space and will diminish faster than any bettor/patron under 50 at the local,regional OTB joint…Never met or spoke to mister Matthews but ‘gotta’ admit that he is the ,probably,last public handicapper from a Former Good,reliable and reputable newspaper whose sports pages were some of the best anywhere from local news, lacrosse,hockey to Horse racing with savvy pickers like Pricci,Berner,Mc Carthy,and x several recent yrs ,Matthews, have made it one of the few reasons why i`d read it while enjoying a real New York bagel ,or two whether i was in Bensonhurst or Bay Shore. Such small nonsense should not deviate the seriousness of the main thread; Cheating,abusing those majestic athletic quadrupeds from squeezing two- year olds fillies to aged geldings whose only purpose seems to be win or be ignored,,or worse while the punishment,if we want to call it that, does not,or ever has,fit the CRIME !. The Jockey Club,is a private club which is comparable when people in uniform ‘investigate’ each other,,hitting the Blue Wall. Enough . Now gotta wash my hands with lemony bleach , visit my friend`s horse barn in Aiken and take up Yoga again.. Namaste ! Arrivederci !

    1. Another beauty from Mr. Romano. Made me think of Serpico starring Al Pacino. Yes, these majestic runners deserved better. Bad medicine-Bon Jovi

  17. JG,

    Visiting Aiken for a weekend was one of the more pleasurable moments I’ve had in my entire life. To me it was like Saratoga, only smaller, if that’s possible…

  18. John: I have one simple question-with apologies to Paul Simon-“Where have you gone Mackenzie Miller, a nation turns its lonely eyes to you?” If you ever met Mac, you know exactly what I mean. He was to horse racing what Joltin Joe was to baseball. However, I must give an honorable mention to Graham Motion. He has been banging the drum against the cheaters for a long time.
    Then, there are people like Ed Martin. To call him clueless would be an insult to Inspector Clouseau!

    1. I wish it were a matter of just being clueless. MackMiller had one “weapon” to make horses better back in the day. Under-performers were gelded, end of story. He defined, and was the epitome, of “gentleman.”

  19. Framarco, John’s and James’ previous comment lines on Aiken immediately also had me thinking of Mack Miller and the era of the “real” super trainers. I began to type a comment asking the same S&G line when I noticed you already employed it. I so miss the simplicity of days past when trainers like Miller were so much more concerned with the well being and protective management their horses. Many of that era were content to pass on the Derby cavalcade feeling that the safer option was that many younger horses to be allowed more time to mature. And then we entered into the era of Lucas and Baffert and “win at all cost”. Credit extended to Sonny Lapilotta for “Win at All Cost. No one person has captured this better. Thinking back a time of trading Snider, for Mantle, or Willie Mays baseball cards, flippies and leaners, a time when even the not so highly rated still found a life on a Schwinn bike and one of Mom’s clothes pins…..thinking of all this and wondering how we ever allowed a cross over into the era of the juice man. Sad is all. Hopefully with guys like Indulto, TJ, Framarco, Lapilotta, and Pricci, we one day will find our way back.

  20. Framarco,
    The Clouseau line was priceless! LOL

    It was those “flippies”and “leaners” that created us gamblers in grade school.
    Never pitched a penny, but sure pinched a few in my time.

  21. Indy, Leaners when pitching pennies as well I-Man. Back in the day, they were still oak leaf. Lol.

    Your gambling comment has me recalling Andy Beyer’s comment that the biggest mistake his parents ever made was sending him to school in Boston. He advised that he had learned early on that only two stops away on the subway, there was a place where they gave away money everyday. Suffolk Downs.

    It was there that the gamble vice was advanced from pennies I suspect. The idea was adjusted upward and advanced towards how to get the dollars out of the other guys pocket. Suspect Bishop Loughlin John Boy joined the same quest when he hopped on the A Train to Queens. The Big A. Lol.

    Me? I was more the turtle type. Cautious player when gambling, but I remembered where all the cracks in the road were. Always stayed clear of playing cards and wagered only on the flats. Played bigger only with house money. Even in high school. The cautious mindset served me well mind you. Even today. Months back, I reverted to all in on Treasury, save a ten percent position in GLD.

    Did well following JP and Mark back in my younger days. John was about five years my senior. I don’t think I’ll ever catch up to him. For his sake, I hope I don’t anytime soon mind you. For the cost of only a nickel mind you got Pricci and Berner. Another nickel add Russ Harris. Years later Pack and of Win fame Paul Corman. He gave away so many winners on Harvey Pack’s show he stopped going on the show. . So miss that after the wire commentary finished out well that Mark Berner turned us all onto. Great sport in the day, and Mark and John kept us safe at second. For the most part, John and TJ now keep us balanced.

    Enough rambling, my take going forward, at least for a while, stay within a low budget, and stay clear of the Servis type super thieves. Pass the race if it stinks. If it smells like ##it it more than likely is. Still Riders I-man up. Just keep an eye on your surroundings, one hand on your beer, and one on your wallet.

    Today’s wish to improve the sport? Who know, may even Gulfstream will one day provide us all a true “post time” once again.

    1. McD,
      My parents thought I was majoring in Math. Imagine their surprise to learn that proficiency in pool, poker, and playing the the ponies were also a priority.

      Discovered Saratoga as a Junior, and probably wouldn’t have graduated if the horses didn’t go back to NYC and eventually FL in the winter. The only thing that saved me was finding out that programming computers professionally was like getting paid to practice one’s favorite perversion.

  22. I thought that Inspector Colombo [ Columbo ?] was the clueless one until a couple minutes before the end. ,hey,they both wore similar raincoats !!Anytime i hear,see Suffolk Downs being mentioned it reminds me of my Coldest winter ever survived while residing outside Boston. Waking up while the temps were always under 20 F,icy conditions,my pick- up truck flipping on me a few x,getting stuck on a cheap motel in a room,the last one available ,without heat and a ccccold waterbed while the ” date x the night ” kept on calling the desk for a portable heater as the snow was covering frozen terrain,pots and automobiles.. Got my $ back and lost a friendly gal.Who could forget those ‘1;17″ 6 F muddy races ! !!Thankfully ,that year, The Mets beat the Red Sux and the Giants beat the Patriots,,and i ran away from one Belmont and into near another one ,in Nassau county. Just heard that Disneyland closed x a while and ,of course will the other Fantasyland near Knotts Berry Farm near another fantasy place,Malibu where i spent my first honeymoon with the mom of my lawyer son and bilingual teacher daughter who just made me ‘Nonno’,again as my birthday just passed by. Take care of yourselves,as i tell myself , with this conditional and hopefully,temporary influx of health, sanitary and economic panic,pandemonium and uncertainty is chasing most of the world`s inhabitants into their own private,subjective corners by another invisible enemy which is worse than being kicked in the ‘jewels’ by a giant foot with steel toed boots esp.since most horse racing fans,dreamers are no longer young studs who can immediately recuperate their wounds. I was in New York on that damned Tuesday morning of 9/11 and i mention this because too many volunteers,firemen,police officers,priests and first aid professionals died months,years after they were infected with that poisonous,acrid air that i was smelling from Grand Central Station some 30 plus blocks away. Like in many situations ‘you had to be there’ to understand why i`m always feeling moved when i remind myself of such Crap. Be safe!

    1. Sufferin’ Downs in E. Boston pretty rough in winter. Cigar won Mass Cap there twice and drew huge crowds. Super horse.

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