By Bill Finley
Trainer Jorge Navarro will not have to worry about where he is going to race this winter. Tim Ritvo, the chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, reports that the trainer has been cleared to race at Gulfstream and all tracks owned by the Stronach team.
Navarro’s status at Gulfstream was, at least for a time, uncertain because he was temporarily banned from racing at Laurel, another Strronach track. Navarro was the second leading trainer at last year’s “Championship Meet” at Gulfstream. With 40 winners, he trailed only Todd Pletcher, who had 58.
Navarro found himself in the middle of a controversy when a video surfaced of him and owner Randal Gindi cheering on a horse trained by Navarro’s brother Marcial winning a race at Gulfstream. The video was shot at Monmouth Park. Among other controversial comments made by the pair, Gindi shouts out “the juice man” and Navarro says “we f–k everyone.”
Just last week, the case was closed when the New Jersey Racing Commission accepted the Monmouth stewards’ recommendation to fine Navarro $10,000 and Gindi $20,000. In the worst case scenario for Navarro, he could have been suspended or had his license revoked.
Navarro has apologized for his behavior. Gindi did not attend the New Jersey Racing Commission meeting. Navarro said the owner told him he is selling all his horses.
Ritvo said that Laurel had refused to take entries from Navarro because his case was still pending in New Jersey. Now that a final ruling has been made and the penalties levied against Navarro were relatively light, Ritvo said The Stronach Group team did not believe there was a strong enough case for keeping Navarro out.
“It’s a complicated situation,” Ritvo said. “We did not let him run in Maryland because the case was still open in New Jersey and no one was sure how it was going to be resolved. But now that it has been resolved and there is nothing else pending, he will be allowed to race at our tracks.”
The ban on Navarro might have cost Laurel an entry or two in the DeFrancis, which wound up with a field of just four. Navarro trains a couple of top sprinters, including EL Deal (Munnings), who seemed to be good fits for the race. The DeFrancis was won by Chublicious (Hey Chub), who had been trained by Navarro but was transferred to the barn of Claudio Gonzalez before the race. Ritvo said Maryland officials were convinced that Gonzalez, and not Navarro, was in fact training the horse.
Even before the video surfaced, Navarro was a source of constant controversy because of his extraordinarily high winning percentage and his ability to transform ordinary horses into stars. El Deal finished ninth at 102-1 for trainer Francisco D’Angelo in the Jan. 28 Gulfstream Turf Sprint. Some time after that race he was acquired privately by Navarro and owners Al and Michelle Crawford and has not lost since. He is three for his last three and in his last start he won the GI Alfred Vanderbilt H. at Saratoga by eight lengths. He is scheduled to start next in the
GI Vosburgh S. at Belmont and appears to be a major contender for the GI Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Navarro is winning with 33% of his starters on the year.
Ritvo said that Gulfstream routinely enacts additional security measures when it comes to trainers that win at very high percentages, and that Navarro will be no exception.
“This is not a witch hunt and we’re not trying to pick on anyone, but anytime a trainer has results at Gulfstream that can be considered abnormal, their barn will be under extra security,” Ritvo said. “We do it to protect the public. There will be cameras in the barn and security officers stationed in the barn. We did this with Kirk Ziadie and Marcus Vitali when they were doing really well. We told them it was in the best interests of the racing public and something we need to do and they were okay with it.”