Twenty-seven people are facing charges in a massive horse racing doping scandal in which, federal prosecutors say, trainers, veterinarians and illegal drug manufacturers inhumanely doped and, in some cases, inadvertently killed horses as part of a $100 billion sports betting industry.
Among the list of names revealed by the Justice Department on Monday is acclaimed horse trainer Jason Servis, who’s accused of doping “virtually all of the racehorses under his control,” including champion Maximum Security, in order to make them run faster.
The 4-year-old most recently won the $20 million Saudi Cup. He was also the first to cross the finish line in last year’s Kentucky Derby but was disqualified due to interference.
From 2018 to February, prosecutors say, Servis entered horses in approximately 1,082 races.
Fellow trainer Jorge Navarro, who has raked in nearly $35 million from his own horse racing career, is also accused of giving performance-enhancing drugs to his horses, in some cases to the point of death.
Prosecutors said Navarro paid unlicensed veterinarian Seth Fishman tens of thousands of dollars over at least two years for the drugs, which Fishman manufactured himself.
According to a February phone call that prosecutors say was made between trainers Nicholas Surick and Michael Tannuzzo, several of Navarro’s horses died and had to “disappear.”
“You know how many fucking horses [Navarro] fucking killed and broke down that I made disappear?” Surick allegedly told Tannuzzo, according to a call transcript included in the criminal complaint. “You know how much trouble he could get in … if they found out … the six horses we killed?”
Among the horses alleged to have been injected with performance-enhancing drugs was Navarro’s racehorse XY Jet, which Navarro said died of a heart attack in January.
XY Jet had been administered several adulterated and misbranded performance-enhancing drugs just before two races, one in Florida and one in Dubai, that earned him more than $1.5 million, prosecutors said.
William F. Sweeney Jr., the FBI’s assistant director in charge of the New York office, said the allegations against the defendants “amounted to nothing less than abuse.”
“They experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury and in some cases death,” Sweeney said of the animals at a news conference on Monday. “Conversely, the human beings involved in this scheme continued to line their purses as they manipulated this multibillion-dollar horse racing industry across the globe. People are rightly disturbed by the mistreatment of animals who have absolutely no means of defense.”
People are rightly disturbed by the mistreatment of animals who have absolutely no means of defense.
William F. Sweeney Jr., FBI assistant director in New York
Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said that the allegations “are likely just the tip of the iceberg” for an industry that needs far more regulation.
“These individuals, and the industry, must be held accountable,” she said.
“Congress needs to pass the Horseracing Integrity Act to improve the welfare of racehorses throughout the country and bring the industry into the modern century.”
That act would establish an independent nonprofit corporation that would develop and administer an anti-doping and medication control program for horses involved in races.
The charges filed against the defendants include obstruction; conspiring to manufacture, distribute and administer adulterated or misbranded drugs; and smuggling. All of the charges except obstruction and smuggling carry a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
The obstruction and smuggling charges can bring up to 20 years in prison. They were filed separately against Surick and defendant Sarah Izkahi, who’s accused of smuggling into the U.S. an adulterated and misbranded blood builder sourced illegally from a Mexican pharmaceutical company.