The trainer of Maximum Security, one of the fastest racehorses in the world, is among more than two dozen individuals charged in a “widespread corrupt scheme” to dope horses and cheat the $100 billion global industry, prosecutors said on Monday.
Jason Servis and 26 other trainers, veterinarians, and drug distributors were charged in four indictments unsealed Monday in New York. They are accused of several crimes, including drug adulteration and misbranding conspiracy, after allegedly trying “to improve race performance” on tracks 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,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York.
“Trainers who participated in the scheme stood to profit from the success of racehorses under their control by earning a share of their horses’ winnings, and by improving their horses’ racing records, thereby yielding higher trainer feeds and increasing the number of racehorses under their control,” the indictment said, adding that over the course of the scheme, the “participants manufactured, purchased, sold, shipped, delivered, received and administered thousands of units” of performance-enhancing drugs.
Federal prosecutors allege Servis secretly gave these drugs “to virtually all the racehorses under his control.” Between February 2018 and February 2020, the trainer entered his horses in more than 1,082 races, including the Kentucky Derby in May, where Maximum Security finished first. The 3-year-old horse, however, was later disqualified for nearly knocking over two rival horses during the final turn of the race, and Country House was later named the winner.
Last month, Maximum Security won $10 million at the Saudi Cup in Riyadh, which is considered the world’s richest race.
In an intercepted call with Kristian Rhein, a veterinarian and co-defendant, Servis questioned whether the drugs he gave to Maximum Security would show up on a test before a race in New Jersey.
“They don’t even have a test for it,” Rhein told Servis, according to the indictment. “There’s no test for it in America.”
According to the indictment, the scheme was “orchestrated” by horse trainer Jorge Navarro, who obtained and administered “various adulterated and misbranded” performance-enhancing drugs “to the racecourses under his control” beginning in 2018. Prosecutors allege he entered about 1,480 races over the two-year period, during which he and his co-conspirators, including veterinarians, defrauded and misled federal and state regulators, “and the betting public.”
One of Navarro’s most prized thoroughbreds, X Y Jet, died earlier this year from the drugs—which Navarro blamed as a heart attack, prosecutors said. In one instance, Navarro injected the 8-year-old horse, who won the prestigious Dubai Golden Shaheen in Dubai last March, over 50 times before a single race, the indictment states.
“With deep regret, I am sorry to notify you that X Y Jet died this morning as a result of a heart attack,” Navarro said in a January statement. “X Y Jet was more than a horse on my trained list. [He] was the one that took us through a wonderful and exciting roller coaster of emotions. He always fought against adversity and despite the injuries that affected him during his career, he always brought out that kind of champion he was.”
According to the indictments, the drugs used on these horses, known as “blood builders,” stimulate the animal’s endurance and can lead to heart issues and death. The indictments said other drugs were also used to suppress the horses’ sensitivity to pain—often leading to leg fractures.
“What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the FBI’s New York office, said in a Monday press conference announcing the charges.
The indictments Monday come as the racing industry has come under scrutiny following a spate of horse deaths. According to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, nearly 10 horses a week on average died at U.S. racetracks in 2018.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, more than 30 horses were euthanized after fatal breakdowns at Santa Anita Park, one of the most famous tracks in America. The deaths nearly halted the racing industry in Southern California and have since spurred an investigation by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said Monday’s indictments show that “illegal doping is still ubiquitous in horse racing, including at the highest levels.”
“These crimes cheat bettors of billions of dollars and are egregiously cruel to horses, resulting in rampant injuries, pain, and deaths, such as those cited in the indictment,” Guillermo said. “PETA is calling for a permanent ban from racing of all guilty trainers and veterinarians as well as any other conspirators and for criminal charges of cruelty to animals to be added forthwith.”