Feds Sweep 27 in Racehorse Doping Probe

MANHATTAN (CN) — Tying the horse that nearly won the 2019 Kentucky Derby to a massive doping ring, prosecutors unsealed four federal indictments Monday against 27 trainers, veterinarians and other figures from the racing world.

Indicted in the Southern District of New York, the defendants are said to have smuggled and rebranded “thousands of units” of performance-enhancing drugs and pain suppressors to racehorses throughout the United States and the United Arab Emirates.

The drugs allegedly caused some horses to suffer cardiac arrest and broken legs from overexertion, and in some cases even death.

Luis Saez riding Maximum Security, second from right, goes around turn four during the 145th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., on May 4, 2019. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Officials decried the inhumane treatment of the racehorses from taking the supplements, calling the results on the animals disturbing and abusive.

“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,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said in a statement. “And it was the racehorses that paid the price for the defendants’ greed.”

One of the indictments alleges that racehorse trainer Jorge Navarro used “blood-building” drugs including erythropoietin to avoid anti-doping tests by regulators. Blood builders can thicken a horse’s blood when mixed with other substances, leading to cardiac problems or death.

Another part in Navarro’s scheme, prosecutors said, involved customized analgesic pain-relievers and the anti-inflamatory drug known as “red acid,”

which led racehorses to ignore pain and overexert themselves.

The racehorse XY Jet, which died of a heart attack in January after winning the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai, is said to be one of the horses Navarro doped.

Other horses, including the original 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security, received performance-enhancing drugs as well, according to the indictments. Maximum Security was disqualified from winning the derby for bearing out.

At a press conference this morning, officials said some of the drugs were manufactured in unregulated facilities in the United States, while others were smuggled in from abroad.

Once word got out that racing officials were investigating the doping ring,

prosecutors say the defendants faked veterinary bills and prescriptions to give the appearance of propriety.

Navarro allegedly took steps not to talk about doping over the phone and instructed his co-conspirators to lie when necessary but otherwise not to talk to officials at race tracks.

Navarro was arrested Monday morning. He has netted more than $34 million in winnings during his career as a trainer.

No representatives for Navarro replied to an email sent to his stable in Miami Gardens, Fla., seeking comment.

Prosecutors say the scheme was furthered by veterinarian Seth Fishman, who helped fake prescriptions and adulterated the drugs to avoid racing officials’ tests.

The government quotes a phone call where Fishman told a prospective customer that giving any banned or unregulated drugs to a horse to improve performance constituted doping. “You know, whether or not it’s testable, that’s a different story,” Fishman said.

Navarro paid Fishman tens of thousands of dollars to fix prescriptions, the indictment states. Fishman was arrested in Miami last October.

In another case, veterinarian Louis Grasso allegedly helped obtain snake venom, used as a pain suppressor, to boost racehorse performance. Prosecutors say Grasso told customers that for $100 he would write prescriptions without verifying medical necessity. “I don’t give the fuck what it is,” he told one customer, according to the indictment.

Grasso has a checkered past in the horse-racing industry. He was caught selling anabolic steroids to an undercover agent in New York in 1991, and the following year pleaded guilty to steroid possession and distribution charges. His veterinary license has been revoked by several states, including Connecticut and New Jersey.

Officials from the FBI, Food and Drug Administration, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were all involved in the sweep, which was assisted by New Jersey and New York police and gaming regulators. Other defendants include Sarah Izhaki and Scott Robinson.

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