More than two dozen people involved in the horse racing industry have been indicted for taking part in a scheme to give racehorses performance-enhancing drugs to help them win races around the world, federal prosecutors announced on March 9.
One of the defendants is trainer Jason Servis, who prosecutors say “doped virtually all horses under his control,” including Maximum Security, the colt that crossed the finish line first at last year’s Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference. Last month, Maximum Security won $10 million in the inaugural Saudi Cup.
The defendants are accused of misleading and defrauding the government agency that regulates the veterinary care for racehorses by disguising the banned drugs with misleading labels.
Prosecutors unsealed four indictments Monday that accuse 27 people—horse trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors—of carrying out separate but related conspiracies to covertly provide performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses.
They’re accused of having various roles in the scheme to manufacture, distribute, and administer performance-enhancing drugs to racehorses that were altered in order to not raise suspicions.
“These defendants engaged in this conduct not for the love of the sport, and certainly not out of concern for the horses, but for money,” U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey Berman said in a news release. “And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ greed.”
The indictment’s accusations target some of the most prominent trainers and horses in the sport, such as Servis, the trainer of Maximum Security. Another defendant is Jorge Navarro, the trainer of XY Jet, the thoroughbred that won the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai and its $1.5 million prize. The indictment says Navarro provided performance-enhancing drugs to XY Jet, who died in January 2020 of an apparent heart attack.
The types of drugs that were given to horses were meant to “increase their performance beyond their natural abilities,” said William Sweeney Jr., the assistant director in charge of the FBI ‘s New York office. Drugs that were used could increase red blood cell count, increase stamina and endurance, relieve pain, and reduce joint inflammation, according to the indictment.
“What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” Sweeney said. “They experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury and, in some cases, death.”
One drug, erythropoietin, known as “epo,” boosts a horse’s red blood cell count to increase endurance and speed recovery, one of the four indictments said.
One indictment calls the defendants’ actions a “widespread, corrupt scheme” to secretly administer these drugs to racehorses, evade rules that prohibit them and deceive horse racing authorities and regulators in order to “improve race performance and obtain prize money” from races in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates, “all to the detriment and risk of the health and well-being of the racehorses.”
One horse trainer is accused of working with someone else to “quietly dispose of the bodies of dead horses,” rather than report those horses’ deaths to authorities, Berman said at the news conference.
“You know how many [expletive] horses [Navarro] [expletive] killed and broke down that I made disappear … You know how much trouble he could get in … if they found out … the six horses we killed?” said one co-conspirator on a call that was intercepted by authorities, according to one of the indictments.
Prosecutors did not disclose a total number of horses that were believed to have been killed as part of the scheme.
Prosecutors said people who took part in the scheme got richer, including trainers who profit from a horse’s improved racing records, which brings in more prize money that they would then get a cut from. Prosecutors don’t have a total amount of money that co-conspirators allegedly pocketed from the scheme.
All were indicted for misbranding conspiracy. One person was indicted on two counts of obstruction and one person for smuggling.
The FBI started this investigation two years ago, prosecutors said, while investigating another matter.