By Bill Finley
Effective Dec. 1, the Meadowlands will ban 33 harness horsemen after evidence and exhibits track officials acquired from the U.S. Attorney's Office revealed the names of trainers and owners who had purchased banned substances from individuals who were charged with manufacturing and selling performance-enhancing drugs.
The delay in imposing the ban was put in place in order to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest because many of the trainers are pointing horses to races run at the Meadowlands during November in which they could meet horses owned by Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural. The delay will also give owners time to transfer their horses to new barns.
The Meadowlands requested access to evidence presented during the trials of Dr. Seth Fishman and one of his assistants, Lisa Giannelli. Fishman was sentenced to 11 years in prison and Giannelli was given a sentence of 42 months. They were among more than 30 people charged with crimes related to the use of performance-enhancing drugs on horses after a widespread investigation by the FBI and others.
Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural said that he has so far received information only from the Giannelli trial and predicted that when information from the Fishman trial is released far more names could be involved.
According to a press release issued Friday by the Meadowlands, the evidence obtained by the track revealed the identity of persons who had purchased prohibited substances Epogen and Thymosyn.
Those who will be excluded for the alleged use of EPO are Dylan Davis, Nick Devita, Gareth Dowse, Jeff Gillis, Brian Malone, John Mungillo, Eric Prevost, Richard Silverman, Leroy Slabaugh and Howard Taylor.
Those who will be excluded for the alleged use of Thymosyn are Ryan Bellamy, Anthony Buttitta, Franck Chick, Jamen Davidovich, Eddie Dennis, Brady Galliers, Rick Howles, Anthony Lake, Betty Jean Davis Lare, Kevin Lare, John Leggio, Gregg McNair, Cynthia Milano, Anthony Napolitano, Howard Savage, Arthur Stafford and Trevor Stafford.
Additionally and according to the Meadowlands press release, the Federal government conducted its own collection of blood and urine samples from racehorses, both post-race and from out of competition testing, during its investigation. Six individuals allegedly had horses test poistive for banned substances and also will be excluded from the Meadowlands. The following is a list of those individuals and the drugs their horses allegeldy tested positive for: Al Annunziata (Propantheline); Jenn Bongiorno (Ethamsylate); Bob Bongiorno (Ethamsylate); Scott DiDomenico (Ethamsylate); Jeff Gillis (Ethamsylate); Nick Sodano Sr. (Cobalt).
The 33 could face even more penalties as the information uncovered by the Meadowlands will be turned over to the various state racing commissions covering the tracks where the individuals compete.
Asked why there were no thoroughbred horsemen among the names uncovered by the Meadowlands, Gural speculated that Giannelli's clients were primarily Standardbred horsemen and that once names linked to Fishman are released they could involve thoroughbred trainers and owners.
Fishman, a Florida veterinarian, was sentenced for what United States Attorney Damian Williams said was due to “his role at the helm of an approximately twenty-year scheme to manufacture, market, and sell to racehorse trainers and others in the racehorse industry 'untestable' performance enhancing drugs for use in professional horseracing.”
While the evidence against Fishman was enough for him to be sentenced to 11 years in prison, the government's case didn't shed much light on who was buying what from Fishman and his company. The one exception was Jorge Navarro, who was directly linked to Fishman. In a Department of Justice press release it was revealed that “Fishman aided Navarro in doping XY Jet, a thoroughbred horse that won the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai before dying of sudden heart attack in January 2020. As established at trial, Fishman sold tens of thousands of dollars' worth of PEDs to Navarro over the course of several years, and Navarro specifically credited Fishman for XY Jet's performance at the Golden Shaheen.”
“The whole thing is terrible,” Gural said. “It's unfortunate. They lucked out that I kept the Meadowlands open, but their luck ran out because I am honest. We spent $2.5 million of our own money on this investigation. It's sad because there are people who had no choice but to cheat. They felt they had to feed their family and they couldn't win a race.”