Barred Trainer Tannuzzo Poised to Change Plea in Doping Case

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Sarah Andrew

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The barred trainer Michael Tannuzzo appears poised to join the parade of indicted defendants in the 2020 racehorse doping conspiracy case who have changed their pleas to guilty in order to keep felony charges against them from getting decided at trial.

On Tuesday a federal judge granted Tannuzzo a swift July 7 hearing to explain his reasons for wanting to change his initial “not guilty” plea.

Tannuzzo, 50, who had 11 horses under his care and had been racing at Aqueduct at the time of his March 9, 2020, arrest, made headlines 24 hours later by steadfastly declaring his innocence and maintaining that the New York State Gaming Commission shouldn't have suspended his license after learning he had been booked by the feds on two felony charges related to conspiracies and drug misbranding.

Tannuzzo told Daily Racing Form at that time that he was being targeted by the feds because his “best friend” was the trainer and high-profile defendant Jorge Navarro. His two conspiracy charges were related to Tannuzzo picking up a package of purported performance-enhancing drugs from Navarro's residence and delivering it to him at Monmouth Park. Tannuzzo said that equated to “guilt by association.”

But since Tannuzzo made those initial statements in the press nearly 2 1/2 years ago, Navarro has admitted to doping his horses, changed his own plea to guilty, and is currently serving a five-year prison sentence. Tannuzzo's trial had been set to start Sept. 12.

According to a trove of wiretapped calls made public by federal prosecutors, on March 3, 2019, Navarro and Tannuzzo discussed modeling a doping program based on one Navarro had used on his elite-level stakes sprinter, X Y Jet.

A key takeaway from this discussion is that neither trainer seems sure of the name of the substance that would be administered.

Navarro: What I'm going to do is tap his ankles, put him in a series every week with SGF. I'm just trying [to get] my vet to give me a good price, man, because I want to [expletive] tap every week.

Tannuzzo: You're going to tap him every week?

Navarro: Yeah, with SGF. That's what I did with X Y Jet. I'm going to call my vet up north, my surgeon, to see how he did it to X Y Jet and that's it. Don't worry man, you're in good hands. Don't worry.

Tannuzzo: You're talking about the HGF, not the SGF.

Navarro: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Whatever. The SGF whatever. The thing that you sent me the syringe.

Tannuzzo: Yeah.

Navarro: Yeah, yeah. And [this undisclosed horse] is getting one of those SGF-1000 whatever. He's getting one today.

Within 10 months of that conversation, X Y Jet would die suddenly under Navarro's care, allegedly from cardiac distress that has never been fully documented or explained.

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