“Juice” Comments Leave Navarro’s Owners Scrambling

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Jorge Navarro | Equi-Photo

By T. D. Thornton

Five-time leading Monmouth Park trainer Jorge Navarro’s brushes with racing regulators in three states this week have resulted in hectic, last-minute changes for several expected stakes entrants and their owners.

A $5,000 “conduct detrimental to racing” fine issued by Monmouth Park stewards, a warning from Indiana racing officials that he would not be issued a training license in that state, and the barring of his entries by Laurel Park are among the regulatory woes that Navarro has faced since Sunday.

The above-referenced trio of troubles was set into motion when Navarro and one of his clients, Randal Gindi, were captured on a smart phone video at a Monmouth clubhouse bar Aug. 4 making coarse comments that brazenly referenced the use of “juice” (i.e., performance-enhancing drugs) in racehorses and the alleged cashing of a big bet with illegal bookmakers.

The taunting, profane video was posted online a week later, and has since been viewed nearly 9,000 times (see it here {contains profanity}). Navarro and Gindi were each fined $5,000 by the Monmouth stewards Sunday along with a recommendation to the New Jersey State Racing Commission that the fines be increased beyond what the stewards are allowed to impose when the commission reviews the matter at its Sep. 20 meeting.

Navarro could not be reached for comment. In several published reports this week, he claimed that he and Gindi were engaging in retaliatory jesting with the unidentified person shooting the video.

Joking or not, the outrageous, drug-related comments have caused repercussions for clients who have aligned themselves with the 27% lifetime winning trainer who served a 60-day Florida suspension in 2013 for multiple flunixin positives, some of which were 300 times above the permitted threshold for the painkiller. He is also currently appealing a Florida positive for cocaine in a post-race equine test that occurred earlier this year.

Navarro had nominated three horses to the Sep. 16 GIII De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel: El Deal (Munnings), most recently the victor of the GI Vanderbilt H., Chublicious (Hey Chub), the New Jersey champion sprinter and older male of 2016, and X Y Jet (Kantharos), who has not raced since running third in last year’s De Francis Dash and shows only one current published workout, thus making him an unlikely entrant.

When reached by phone on Wednesday, Michelle Crawford, who owns El Deal in partnership with her husband, Albert, did not want to comment on either the next-race plans for her horse or how Navarro’s actions might affect their owner-trainer relationship.

“I’m not going to be part of any story. There’s zero comment,” Crawford said before terminating the conversation.

Chublicious, however, was allowed to pass the entry box for the De Francis Dash because a trainer change was arranged just prior to entry. Last trained by Navarro in an Aug. 27 state-bred stakes at Monmouth, the gelding’s new trainer will be mid-Atlantic based Claudio Gonzalez.

Tim Ritvo, president of chief operating officer of The Stronach Group (TSG), which owns Laurel, said in a phone interview that he and Maryland Jockey Club vice president and general manager Sal Sinatra asked for and obtained proof that Gonzalez would not be just a “paper trainer” in lieu of the barred Navarro.

“Sal made sure and verified there was a complete transfer [by] the ownership that the horse [would be] staying with Claudio [and that] he was responsible for all the actions of the horse, and we clearly made sure it wasn’t just a trainer transfer to an assistant trainer or something like that,” Ritvo said. “I wanted no ‘program’ trainer. We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just a program trainer.”

Ritvo said the fact that New Jersey officials have not fully adjudicated Navarro’s case was the main reason TSG acted to bar the trainer for the time being.

“We’re actually just finding out more information on whether the case is closed [in New Jersey] or not. What we’ve read is that the stewards have recommended it goes to the commission, so that was the only issue that we were worried about,” Ritvo said. “And then we saw that Indiana was not going to give the license, so we were a little bit confused about whether the case was still open, and that’s where we stand. It’s unfortunate. We’d love to have the Grade I horse in the entries, but at the same time, we’ve expelled other trainers that had open issues with commissions, and we just didn’t want to move forward with this until we had more clarity on it.”

David Gruskos, who owns Chublicious, told TDN in a Wednesday phone interview that the trainer switch follows a pattern that shows in the gelding’s past performances. Last year, he also had Gonzalez train Chublicious when Navarro went south with his outfit for the winter after Monmouth closed.

“The plan with this horse was, once he goes down to Maryland for this race, he just stays there,” Gruskos said. “The horse goes to Claudio Gonzalez always in the fall and winter. My horses stay up here [when Navarro ships to Florida].”

Gruskos was asked if the trouble Navarro currently faces for “conduct detrimental to racing” would be a factor in continuing to do business with him.

“As a horse trainer, taking care of a horse, he’s very, very good,” Gruskos said. “All this other stuff–I’m not getting caught up in hearsay with this guy. I really don’t know all the details. I’m not a guy that likes gossip. I just try to keep away from it. I don’t deal with him during the winter. Once all of this gets sorted out, I’ll take things and see how they go in the spring.”

At Indiana Grand, the Navarro-trained and Loooch Racing Stable-owned Duchess of Duke (Successful Appeal) was forced to scratch out Wednesday’s Merrillville S., also over stewards’ concerns that the inappropriate video fine was not fully resolved in New Jersey.

Stan Bowker, senior state steward at Indiana Grand, told the Paulick Report that “the thing at Monmouth Park is an integrity of racing issue, as far as we are concerned, so he would have to go before the commission….We have a rule in our book that says we are not going to license anyone with a pending case before another jurisdiction.”

Ed Plesa Jr., a Monmouth-based trainer who also has a horse, Mr. Jordan (Kantharos), entered in the De Francis Dash, told the Asbury Park Press that Navarro’s comments cast the racing industry in a poor light.

“People will look at that and think that is the sport,” Plesa said. “For Navarro to be yelling out ‘juice’ is mind-boggling to me. Here’s a trainer that has a tremendous win percentage. I think you would have to look far and deep for anyone to say he’s that much superior to the rest of the trainers that are back here, or in the industry. And to be yelling that, whether he means it literally or whatever, it would be the last thing I would want coming out of my mouth.”

 

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