By Bill Finley
When Note to Selfie (Big Drama) showed up in the seventh race last Wednesday at Gulfstream, many handicappers surely dismissed the $8,000 claimer. In her most recent start, she finished a non-threatening sixth at the same $8,000 claiming level Feb. 16, and that was for trainer Jorge Navarro. Since that race, Navarro was indicted for allegedly using performance-enhancing drugs on virtually every horse he started. If Note to Selfie couldn’t win for Navarro, how would she do for her new trainer, Elizabeth Dobles? Dobles is competent, but has never produced the kind of too-good-to-be-true results Navarro did before his career was halted by an FBI investigation.
“Of course, I thought the horse was going to run worse,” Dobles said. “I didn’t think she was going to win by any means. I wanted to use the race to gauge where we were at. It was a starting point. If she didn’t hit the board, I would have dropped her down. If she ran ok, maybe second or third, I was going to keep her at the same claiming level.”
Dobles got her answer. Note to Selfie won by a nose and paid $24.40. She ran a 56 Beyer. In three starts after Navarro claimed the filly from Scott Gelner, her Beyer numbers were 50, 42, 48.
And Note to Selfie is not an outlier. Rather, she represents a surprising pattern, that many of the horses that had been trained Navarro or Jason Servis, who was also indicted for doping, that have resurfaced are showing no signs of having regressed for their new connections.
With Equibase providing the data, the TDN studied 39 horses that had been in the barns of Servis or Navarro when they were indicted. The horse had to have raced for either trainer at some point from Jan. 1 on and then return for a new trainer between May 18 and June 17.
Twenty-three horses that were trained by Navarro have run back and four have won in their first start for their new stables and 12 have finished in the money. Sixteen horses that had started for Servis have run back, three have won and nine have finished in the money. Combining the stats for the two trainers, seven of 39 starters have won for a rate of 17.9%. Twenty-one of 39, or 53.8%, have finished in the money.
The Beyer figures also show surprising results.
Among the former Navarro horses that have run back, 10 have run faster, 10 have run slower and the figure for one horse was the same for both races. As for Servis, six show improved Beyer numbers and 10 ran a slower number.
Excluding horses that switched surfaces, 16 former Navarro horses have run back and, on average, they ran 2.5 Beyer numbers faster for their trainers than they did in their last start for Navarro. Using the same criteria for the Servis horses, they declined, on average, by 7.16 Beyer points.
There is a similar pattern on the Thorograph sheets.
“So far there hasn’t been much difference in their figures before and after, but it’s early,” said Thorograph owner Jerry Brown.
Some trainers had little problem getting the horses to maintain their form. Todd Pletcher received eight horses that had been trained by Navarro and had run four through June 17. Three have won and a fourth ran second. Kelly Breen hasn’t been as fortunate. He has gone one for five with former Servis horses and four have finished out of the money. That includes former Servis-trainee Firenze Fire (Poseidon’s Warrior). A Grade I winner, he was a lackluster fourth in the GI Carter H., beaten 12 1/4 lengths. He ran an 86 Beyer in the Carter after running a 102 in his last start for Servis.
Trainer Terri Pompay has claimed two horses off Navarro since December, with very different results. That has given her some insights into the Navarro program.
Navarro claimed Cool Arrow (Into Mischief) off of Pompay for $62,500 Dec. 27, in a winning effort. The horse resurfaced Feb. 7 for his new trainer and ran a poor fifth for $62,500. Pompay claimed him back and, since, the horse has been much better than the one Navarro ran for the one start. Cool Arrow ran a good fourth in his first start for Pompay and then won a $62,500 claimer Sunday at Gulfstream. After running a 72 Beyer for Navarro, the horse has turned in Beyer figures of 92 and 93.
Pompay believes that the Navarro training routine did not fit this particular horse.
“I wasn’t really nervous about claiming him back because I didn’t think he had him long enough for there to be a problem,” she said. “When I got the horse back he was really thin. I just think he trained him a lot harder than we did. I don’t know what else was going on. He came back and didn’t look like the same horse. Whatever his program was, that horse did not do well in it. I don’t know if he injected him or not. I do know that he’s a big horse who likes to carry a little weight on him. I think they did too much with him.”
She wasn’t nearly as fortunate with Benefactor (More Than Ready). She claimed him off Navarro for $62,500 Jan. 23 at Gulfstream, and the horse ran second that day. Pompay has run him back four times since. He has not finished in the money and has lost those starts by a combined 70 3/4 lengths. On Saturday at Gulfstream, he finished eighth and last, beaten 24 3/4 lengths, in a $30,000 claimer.
“He is sound but just has not run for me,” Pompay said. “We have run him back a few times and he never picks up his feet. We can’t find anything to fix and there isn’t anything obvious to tell us why he isn’t running better. He trains ok in the morning, but in his races he just doesn’t have the fire he used to have. Is it just that he’s run and run over the past couple of years before I got him and he is on the downside of his career? Or is it for other reasons? That’s something we are never going to know.”
There will be more tests to come for the Navarro and Servis horses. All eyes will be on Maximum Security (New Year’s Day) when he makes his return to the races for new trainer Bob Baffert. He was widely considered the best horse in training and if he cannot come back and win at the Grade I level there will be plenty of finger pointing.
After the indictments came out Mar. 9, Gulfstream announced that any horse that had been trained by Servis or Navarro could not run for 60 days and could only come back after working before a vet and undergoing tests to declare whether they had any drugs remaining in their system. More than 100 horses were involved and that, as of, June 17, only 39 horses had run back might be significant. Where are the other 61-plus horses and could their trainers be having a difficult time getting them back to the races?
Those answers may be months away. For now, based on the data that is available, horses coming out of the Servis and Navarro barns don’t seem to be having much of a problem maintaining their form.