(Maximum Security / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
On Tuesday afternoon, a few hours after the FBI announced a blood-curtling indictment against 27 persons and the horse racing industry in general, I asked a good friend of mine a couple of very simple, yet troubling questions.
“If someone had told you 24 hours ago, before any of this crap had hit the stall fan, that Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis were going to be indicted and accused of giving their respective horses illegal, performance-enhancing drugs, what would be your reaction?
Without a single doubt registering in the voice, or a single second of hesitation, my great friend — a person who has been around the horse industry all of his life and a person whom I value, both professionally and personally, greatly — said:
“No shi…” he said.
(The last word rhymes with hit, which is exactly what our industry took on Monday.)
Then I posed the second question.
“What is your reaction, now that it has happened?”
“What took them so long?” he said, with a quick retort.
Let’s be honest guys — and I know that many people question if there is anyone left in our industry; our sport; our game that is just that today — nobody is surprised about the names in this most recent edition of the blame game.
Not one single person.
Not one racetrack executive, worth their weight on the scales of life.
Not one owner, who either had to compete against them or had horses with them.
Not one fan, who had to decide whether to wager on their horses or try to bet against them.
The truth is that most long-time horse players and observers have long suspected that both Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis — who now find themselves up to their little necks in bandages covered with cayenne pepper — were both capable, if not fully engaged in these kinds of activities.
Editor’s Note: This is where we issue the pathetic disclaimer. While we all must say and write that the charges are Monday are just “allegations,” and that all 27 of those that were indicted are “innocent until proven guilty” and that they all deserve to have “their day in court.”
Frankly? Gag me.
There have been rumblings for years.
There have been accusations for years.
There has been speculation and fears for years.
Everybody knew of the rumors. Everybody had heard of the stories. Everybody — right down to the likes of Gary and Mary West — had to see the same things.
It was no secret.
If there are sleaze balls in our walk of life, these two would have been prime contenders before Monday.
After all, there are no secrets on the backside of a racetrack.
When you see a video tape of Jorge Navarro and one of his owners cheering for a horse trained by Navarro’s brother, Marcial, to win a race and they are repeatedly yelling the words “The juice man,” doesn’t it give you some pause?
The video exists. The words hit home.
They were clearly heard shouting:
“Adios, amigos. Adios, amigos,” Gindi is heard saying in the video and reported in “The Paulick Report,” on Sept. 11, 2017. “The juice man!”
Navarro responds: “Is that a Navarro? Is that a Navarro? Is that a Navarro at 2-1? That’s the way we do it.”
“That’s the juice. That’s the vegetable juice,” replies Gindi.
“We f – – k everyone,” says Navarro.
“We f – – k everyone, and I line my pockets with the bookie with another twenty thousand,” said Gindi. “Oh, yeah! Life is great.”
Doesn’t that give you some concern?
Doesn’t that make you stop and take note?
Well, that secretly recorded video went viral in industry circles in the Fall of 2017. And, you know the reaction of the racing stewards at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, at the time?
Navarro and his owner, Randal Gindi, were each fined a whopping total of $5,000 apiece.
Are you kidding me? Seriously? Are you kidding me?
That’s the price put on ethical behavior?
The Stewards ruled, stated, and was quoted in the “Paulick Report:”
“The stewards believe the conduct exhibited (by Navarro and Gindi) is extremely detrimental to racing and that a larger fine is warranted,” the ruling states, adding that the maximum penalty the stewards may impose is $5,000.
If the Stewards had ruled it was just plain, ordinary and customary “detrimental,” I wonder what the penalty would have been. Five dollars?
He was contrite and repenting. Right.
He said this at the time:
“Everyone wants to pick on Navarro when I win a race,” Jorge Navarro told the “Paulick Report.” “They call me the ‘juice man,’ even when my kids are around. My son is 10, my daughter is 7. How many fingers do you have to count the number of times I hear that stuff? But I’m going to keep winning races.”
How disgusting today?
On Sept. 20, 2017, the New Jersey Racing Commission met. In their infinite wisdom, they simply doubled the fine and put Navarro on probation for a year.
The commission could have increased the fine, suspended Navarro for a period of time, or revoked his license.
It didn’t do either of the last two.
“It was felt that an increased fine for the conduct displayed was warranted, and not days (suspension).’’ said Frank Zanzuccki, executive director of the racing commission, to writer Stephen Edelson of the “Asbury Park Press,” at the time.
At the time, both Indiana Grand and Laurel Park — a track owned by the Stronach Family — refused to take entries from Navarro.
Monmouth Park? Navarro’s home base?
Well, the track run by Bob Kulina and Dennis Drazin, at the time, didn’t pose any restrictions.
Zero. None. Nada.
Remember that name, Drazin. We will come back to him, a bit later.
At that NJ Commission meeting, Navarro’s attorney — Brad Beilly — was quoted as saying:
“We will be making contact with the appropriate representatives and the various commissions,’’ Beilly said. “Hopefully this will make it easier. It’s up to every individual commission as well as every individual racetrack. But this matter being closed should be looked upon positively in some manner by the other divisions.’’
Needless to say, Navarro was welcomed back — with open stalls, if not arms. Even then, he had a pending citation for a horse that tested positive of cocaine at Tampa Bay Downs.
The racetrack’s total resolve?
Less than satisfactory.
Less than stellar.
Which brings us to our ole’ friend Jason Servis, who just so happened to call out rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., and say that the stewards in Saudi Arabia should look into his ride on Mucho Gusto in the most recent Saudi Cup — won by Servis’ Maximum Security. He insinuated, in no uncertain terms, that Ortiz tried to cheat his horse out of the win by an erratic ride.
The gonads on little Jason. Guess that worm has turned.
It wasn’t that long ago, that Jason Servis was simply known as the brother of John Servis, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2004 with Smarty Jones, and brother-in-law to trainer Edward Plesa, Jr.
Unlike John and Edward, though, Jason had really no super stars in his barn.
Unlike John and Edward, Jason had no super star clients in his portfolio.
He was just a trainer. A trainer nobody knew about; cared about; or thought about giving a good horse.
Oh, he won the Fashion Stakes — whatever the hell it is — in 2004.
Won the Violet Handicap — wherever the hell it is — in 2008.
But that was about it.
Until 2013 and 2014 came around.
Then, all of a sudden, Jason Servis really learned how to train horses. Magic. All of a sudden, little man became the “Big Man on Campus.”
His win percentage skyrocketed. So much so that well-known turf writer Andrew Beyer took note in one of his articles for “The Washington Post.”
Beyer called him a “miracle worker,” and that trainers like Servis now “compile winning percentages that dwarf the records of horsemen enshrined in the Hall of Fame. They acquire horses and transform them in ways that history’s greatest trainers never dreamed of.”
Servis’ horses went from claimers to Stakes winners. Time. After. Time.
All of a sudden, the lesser-known Servis started winning Trainer Titles at some of the best meets in the country.
All of a sudden, his horses were running and winning Stakes races all over the globe.
Case in point. None other than Maximum Security — the only horse in the history of the Kentucky Derby to be disqualified for interference.
The colt started his racing career winning a $16,000 claiming race. He finished the 2019 campaign as the Eclipse Champion for 3-year-olds.
Less than two years ago, my good friend Jonathan Lintner wrote about Jason Servis for the “HorseRacingNation.com.”
On July 8, 2018, Lintner interviewed Servis after his colt — Firenze Fire — won the G3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. This is how the second paragraph read:
“But by Sunday, Servis wasn’t celebrating. He was venting, calling the conversations about his success — and allegations on social media that he’s potentially cheating — ’embarrassing.’ ”
Servis was quoted by Lintner as saying this:
“People are talking a lot of shit, and I’m really not happy about it…I’ve only ben training about 20 years. Am I getting better at it? Probably. I’m just on an unbelievable run right now. Some of the horse are winning, and they are surprising me.”
At the time of Lintner’s report?
Servis was 19 for 35 at Monmouth Park (well, there’s that name again). A win percentage of 54%.
Servis was 17 of 35 at Belmont Park. A win percentage of .49%.
Overall, at the time of publication, Servis’ horses were winning .34% of their races with .66% of his horses finishing in the money.
That’s not bad.
Especially for a guy who had a career win rate of .24% — even after the spike in wins.
Guess, it was just luck.
He told Lintner this:
“I’ve got my kids telling me they’re saying stuff on Twitter. I don’t tweet, so I don’t know anything about that. It just doesn’t really feel that good. It’s like I have to root for the horses to run bad.”
Well, all I can write is that little Jason should learn how to use Twitter. He may have a lot of free time on his hands. Soon. Very soon.
So, Monday’s news?
Ugly, to be sure.
Gross, to be more exact.
Disgusting, in every way.
But the leading characters?
Is anyone truly shocked? Truly?
But the truth of this matter — and the part that hurts the most, truly — is the answer to the second question above.
“Why did it take so long?”
Well, it definitely should not have taken this long.
In fact, it should not have taken the FBI.
It should not have taken a federal investigation.
It should not have taken wire taps and hours of exhaustive research.
The racetracks could have acted. The racetracks should have acted.
The racetracks could have fixed this a long, long time ago. And, should have.
Although Monmouth Park — led by Drazin, who just so happens to be Servis’ legal counsel in the appeal of the 2019 Kentucky Derby (imagine that conflict of interest for a second) — never acted, every other racing jurisdiction could have.
Racetrack executives have the right to deny anyone from access to their grounds and property. For whatever reason they deem necessary and appropriate.
Racetrack executives can and do use this tool to protect the integrity of the game and their name.
Racetrack executives should have done this a long, long time ago.
They should have kicked Navarro off the grounds and denied him stalls after the trainer’s less-than-heroic antics on video in 2017. Even if the Stewards and Racing Commission refused to take more stern actions, the racetracks could have remedied the problem. Once and for all.
After watching Jason Servis’ number skyrocket to unreal and unrealistic heights, they could have installed video surveillance equipment in the barn. On or near every stall, if they wanted. They could have monitored who came and went.
Racetracks could have installed security personnel in each barn. Racetracks could have examined veterinarians that visited the barn, if they wanted to.
And, they could have made Servis pay for it.
After all, the racetracks could have called it — drum roll, please:
Racetracks could have fixed this issue. If they wanted to.
The question is — right here and right now — do they want to?
If they do, truthfully, then let’s do it. Let’s fix it now. For now on.
After all, if you can kick Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer off the grounds at Santa Anita, and the jokester Ed Musselman (better known as “Indian Charlie”) off the grounds in Kentucky, then don’t you think you can kick the suspected cheaters out before it’s too late?
If six racetrack groups — just 6 — decided to take control of the situation, then they could effectively change the sport of horse racing forever. For the better.
The three tracks owned and operated in New York under the banner of NYRA.
The tracks owned and operated in Florida, Maryland, and California by Stronach.
The tracks owned and operated in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Louisiana by Churchill Downs.
And, the privately held owners of Keeneland, Del Mar and Oaklawn Park.
Please get in a room.
Mandate to the trainers that occupy your stalls that their veterinarians purchase all legal medications through the track’s pharmacy. Only. No exceptions.
Mandate that all medications prescribed for each horse will be kept in the racetrack office, and a record of each will travel with the horse. No matter who owns it.
Mandate that all barns have surveillance equipment, owned and operated by the racetrack security. Any tampering with the equipment will be met with swift and severe penalties.
Mandate that security has the right to stop and examine any barn at any time; any veterinarian at any time; any licensed person on the backside at any time.
And, create a set of penalties that are strict, and meaningful.
And, mandate, that violators will be terminated. Never to gain access again. Never. Ever. Ever again.
You won’t lose horses or owners. You probably will gain a whole lot of new ones.
Monday may have been awful, if not surprising. But Monday gives the industry a real chance at real reform. And, it won’t take long for us to see if the racetracks are really serious about getting rid of the cheaters.
The test results will be in the pudding.
Should trainer Patrick Biancone — whose Keeneland operation was raided several years ago, where cobra venom was discovered on the premises — be allowed on the grounds of Churchill Downs for this year’s Kentucky Derby and be allowed to train and enter two horses for the 146th running of the sport’s greatest race?
I know my answer.
Should Belinda Stronach be called out for kicking Hall of Fame trainer off the grounds at Santa Anita, and allowing both Navarro and Servis to keep stalls at Gulfstream Park?
I know my answer.
Should Drazin be forced to decide if he is the President and CEO of Monmouth Park or a legal shrill for the accused Jason Servis in his Kentucky appeal of the 2019 Derby decision?
I know my answer.
Now, it is time to know yours.
Do you want to fix the problems?
If so, then do it.