Trainer Jason Servis faces up to five years in federal prison, as he’s one of 27 individuals charged in a scheme to administer illegal performance-enhancing drugs to several racehorses. That includes Maximum Security, a winner of multiple graded stakes races, who ended up being disqualified from his victory at last year’s Kentucky Derby for interfering with other horses.
The US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced that a federal grand jury handed down four indictments in case that dates back about nine years, according to court documents.
Bill Sweeney, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York field office, said at a press conference that horses were given misbranded and medically unnecessary medications.
As we allege, PEDs were given to race horses in an effort to increase their performance beyond their natural abilities,” he said. “These substances stimulated endurance, deadened nerves, increased oxygen intake, and reduced inflammation. What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse.”
According to the US District Court, no arraignment date has been set for Servis.
Monday’s announcement is the latest blow for a sport that has come under significant public scrutiny in the United States over the past year. More than three dozen horses died at Santa Anita last year, prompting stakeholders to call for reforms in the sport to curb drug use and facilitate other safety measures.
Fed Intercepted Calls from Servis
According to the indictment, Servis placed a call to veterinarian Kristian Rhein last June that was intercepted by authorities. The call came as Maximum Security was training for the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park. The horse had recently received an injection of SGF-1000, a drug that authorities said promotes tissue repair and improves a horse’s stamina.
During the call, Rhein reassured the trainer there was no need to worry about the test.
“There’s no test for it in America,” Rhein said, according to court documents.
Three months prior, in another intercepted call, Servis told another trainer, Jorge Navarro, that he had been using SGF-1000 on almost his entire stable. Navarro said he already had a dozen horses on the PED and that he didn’t want to talk about the subject over the phone.
Navarro and Rhein also face charges in the indictment.
Authorities not only allege that Navarro tried to conceal the doping regimen he implemented in his stable, but that the regimen killed at least six horses he trained before Feb. 1, 2019.
Navarro also gave the drug to another one of his horses, XY Jet. Prior to a race last year in Dubai, Navarro allegedly claimed he gave the gelding 50 oral injections of the drug during the weeks before and on race day.
In January, XY Jet, a horse that won 12 times in 26 races and earned more than $3 million in winnings, died of a heart attack at age 8.
Industry Stakeholders Denounce Doping
Reaction from the horse racing industry and animal welfare groups about the doping charges was swift and continued throughout Monday.
The Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, which includes such groups as the Humane Society of the United States, The Breeders’ Cup, Keeneland, and The Jockey Club, called for the immediate passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, a federal bill that would nationalize drug and safety standards in racing.
By uncovering this ‘widespread, corrupt scheme,’ the FBI and the Justice Department has exposed to the world what we have been saying has plagued our industry for too long — an accepted culture of doping in racing, and the complete inability of the current anti-doping system to stop it,” CHRI Executive Director Shawn Smeallie said in a statement.
Others used the indictments to call out the need for an independent national body to oversee the sport.
“Did the Commissioner make a statement yet? Oh, I forgot!” tweeted trainer Mark Hennig.
Track operators Churchill Downs and The Stronach Group decried the alleged actions of the accused in separate statements, saying they are both committed to protecting the integrity of the sport.
PETA, in its statement, said that federal officials exposed that doping is still prevalent at the highest levels of the sport. They urged authorities to add animal cruelty charges to the indictments and called on racing regulators to issue lifetime bans to those found guilty.
“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,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said in a statement.