By Bill Finley
The next chapter in the saga of Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis will begin Thursday at Gulfstream Park when the first of more than 100 horses that had been under the care of the two trainers before they were indicted will start for their new barns.
Now trained by Mike Maker, Admiral Lynch (Super Saver) has been entered in Thursday's ninth race. The 4-year-old had been trained by Servis. On Thursday, Todd Pletcher will send out two horses that had previously been trained by Navarro.
Three days after Navarro and Servis were indicted on charges that revolved around the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, it was announced by Gulfstream officials that the horses they had been training would be placed on the veterinarian's list and restricted from racing for at least 60 days. In order to be cleared for racing, they had to undergo a battery of tests, including urine and blood tests, and the new trainers had to submit hair samples. The final step was a workout performed before state veterinarians.
Gulfstream Executive Director, Florida Operations Bill Badgett said there were “100 plus” horses that were prohibited from running because they had been trained by Servis or Navarro and that all but about 30 have been cleared to race again. Dr. Dionne Benson, the chief veterinary officer for The Stronach Group, said that no illegal drugs have been detected in any of the horses.
“Our first priority was making sure the horses were healthy and ready to return to competition,” Benson said. “We were concerned about any permanent damage that may have been done to these horses. If they had had any growth hormones or anything like that we couldn't test for, the 60 days off would also give us the opportunity to make sure these horses were clear from the affects of any of those substances.”
Admiral Lynch made his first 11 starts for Navarro before being turned over to trainer Tim Kreiser for whom he made two starts. Landing in the Servis barn after being sold at Fasig-Tipton's December sale, the dark bay ran once for Servis, finishing second in the Feb. 22 GIII World of Trouble S. A repeat of that would make him tough to beat in the $48,000 allowance.
“He's doing well and I have high hopes for him,” Maker said. “If he runs the way he has been working, he will be very competitive.”
Maker said he hasn't seen any signs that would suggest Admiral Lynch, or any of the other 11 horses he has received that were trained by Servis, are any different than any other horses he has acquired from another trainer.
“It's really been pretty straightforward,” he said. “It looks like these horses were well cared for. I have no complaints. I have claimed horses from Jason before and none of them have seemed any different than horses I claimed from someone else.”
On Friday, Pletcher will send out Pick Up the Fone (Overanalyze) in a $20,000 claiming race and Cowboy Culture (Quality Road) in a $12,500 claiming race.
“They've all trained well,” he said of the eight horses he now has that were trained by Navarro. “Once we received them, we knew they wouldn't be able to run for a while. When we found out it was going to be a couple of months, we sort of freshened them up a bit and got them on a breeze program. Then they went through a series of tests they needed in order to be cleared.”
Pletcher also said that nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary with the former Navarro horses.
“To be honest with you, I didn't notice any difference with them and we didn't see any major fall off on any of the ones we got,” he said.
Pletcher ordinarily doesn't accept low-level claimers into his program, but said he did so as a favor to Mike Repole, who is the owner of seven of the former Navarro trainees.
“Mike is one of our biggest clients and we wanted to accommodate him,” Pletcher said. “It was a tight window and people needed to make decisions to get their horses proper care right away so we wanted to help him out.”
Trainer Kelly Breen acquired a number of horses that had been trained by Servis, including Grade I winner Firenze Fire (Poseidon's Warrior). Breen is hoping to run the 5-year-old in the GI Carter H., if the race is part of the Belmont spring stakes program. With Servis having an unusual training routine, where his horses have long, slow gallops in the morning, Breen decided it was best not to change things up too dramatically.
“We have tried to continue with the training style Jason had, two-minute licking them,” he said. “I have tried to not do too much with them until I got to know them and get them through an acclimation period. Their maintenance level and their blood level for me have stayed very good.”
Badgett said the trainers who have taken in former Navarro and Servis horses are “chomping at the bit” to get them back to the races. That means the Gulfstream entries may soon include dozens of these horse, which will present a handicapping conundrum for horseplayers. If the horses had been doped in prior starts and are now running free of drugs, what will that do to their form? In its investigation, the FBI concluded that virtually all of Navarro and Servis' horses were regularly drugged with a number of banned substances. Both trainers are out on bail.