By Bill Finley
The Jorge Navarro case was back in the news last week as lawyers representing the federal government submitted a sentencing letter regarding the disgraced trainer to Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil. They recommended that Navarro get the maximum allowable sentence for doping racehorses under his care, five years. He will be sentenced Friday.
The government lawyers did their job and they did it well, and they want no mercy for the Juice Man. Read the sentencing letter and the first conclusion you will come to is probably the same one I had–that five years is not nearly enough.
We already knew what Navarro was doing. He was pumping every toxic chemical he could find into every horse he had, all in an effort to win more races and collect more purse money, never once concerned about the welfare of the animal.
“Jorge Navarro's case reflects failings, greed, and corruption at virtually every level of the world of professional horse racing. For money and fame, corrupt trainers went to increasing extremes to dope horses under their care,” the filing begins.
It continues: “Navarro's aggressive pursuit of PEDs–and his eagerness to use racehorses under his care to test the potency of novel PEDs–displayed a particularly callous disregard for the well-being of the horses under his care and control.”
What we didn't know until the latest court filing was released was just how brazen and unrepentant he was. It may not seem possible, but Navarro's core was even more rotten than we had thought.
The government maintains that Navarro “considered his prolific doping campaign a badge of honor.” How else do you explain why he owned a pair of shoes emblazoned across the front with the words “#JUICE MAN.”? Or that in 2018 he sent a text to trainer Marcos Zulueta that included pictures of monkeys, rockets, syringes, horses and pills, apparently a reference to a drug he was using called “monkey.” The pictures were proceeded by the words “Te encanta,” Spanish for “You love it.” Or that he received via text a GIF from an unnamed associate that showed a syringe loaded with money?
“The intensity of Navarro's doping was matched by his apparent glee in this illicit conduct,” the government writes.
The government also wants Navarro to pay $25.8 million in restitution to those he cheated out of purse money. It's not clear how they came up with that number or who exactly is entitled to the money. It's also highly unlikely that Navarro has $25.8 million, or anywhere close to that. So this part of his punishment may not go anywhere, but it's good to see that the government is also going after whatever money he has.
Then there was the prediction from Navarro's lawyer in a filing that the trainer will most likely be deported to his native Panama after serving his sentence. Good riddance.
Earlier this month, in a pre-sentencing report of their own, Navarro's defense team asked the judge to limit his sentence to 3 1/2 years. In doing so, they painted a much different picture of their client. They say he loved his horses and that his insatiable desire to win tainted his judgment.
Their filing included statement from several individuals who vouched for his character. One came from veterinarian Joel Lugo, who recalled Navarro's reaction to the death of star sprinter XY Jet (Kantharos). The horse died in January, 2020 from what Navarro said was a heart attack.
“I remember the day when XY Jet passed away,” Lugo wrote. “Jorge called me crying to tell me directly the news. I know Navarro was devastated because he truly loved XY Jet.”
Jockey Jose Ferrer wrote of Navarro that he “admired his hard work ethic and love for both the sport and the animal.”
Such sentiments are laughable. Anyone who can do to these animals what Navarro did does not love their horses. Navarro abused his horses.
“These are among some of the factors that put the lie to Navarro's submission and his multiple letters of support quoted in and appended to Navarro's sentencing submission, in which third parties claim that Navarro made decisions for the health and well-being of his horses,” the government wrote. “That notion simply does not comport with the hundreds of conversations wherein Navarro sought PEDs to use on his horses, discussed administering novel PEDs on his horses, pushed horses in poor physical shape to compete, and displayed indifference at the physical ramifications of administering PEDs to horses.”
One can only hope that Vyskocil agrees. Send him to prison for five years. Deport him. Take away his money. It's time for the Juice Man to get what he deserves.
And What About Navarro's Owners?
The government's sentencing letter includes a recapping of a conversation with the owner of a horse named Nanoosh (Paytner). The unnamed owner and Navarro discuss the horse's recent poor form and the owner asks him if he was “giving them [Nanoosh] all the shit?” The owner also asked Navarro, “Is this horse jacked out? Is he on fucking pills or what or are we just fucking -,” Navarro responded, “Everything…he gets everything.”
The same exchange was also referred to 21 months ago when Navarro was originally indicted. According to Equibase, the horse was owned by the partnership of Rockingham Ranch, Zayat Stables LL and David A. Bernsen LLC. Rockingham Ranch and Bernsen are still active owners. Zayat, due to problems unrelated to Nanoosh, is not active in the sport.
Doesn't anyone in the sport want to get to the bottom of this? It can't be that hard to find out who the owner was that had the discussion with Navarro. Once the name is revealed, that person should be barred from the sport immediately and permanently.
The Remsen Fiasco
Protests seeking to overrule stewards' decisions usually don't get very far, but the case of this year's GII Remsen S. is one where the New York Gaming Commission should absolutely reverse the order of finish. The Aqueduct stewards got this one wrong.
The race came down to Mo Donegal (Uncle Mo) and Zandon (Upstart), who were noses apart as they headed toward the wire. Aboard race winner Mo Donegal, jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. appeared to go out of his way to intimidate his rival. The two bumped near the wire with, according to the Equibase chart, Ortiz throwing “repeated exaggerated crosses with the left rein near the face of the runner-up…”It got so bad that Ortiz appeared to strike Zandon with his elbow.
Mo Donegal won by a nose.
Zandon's owner Jeff Drown filed his protest last week and maintained that his horse would have won if not for Ortiz's antics. He's not wrong.
It's not just that the stewards blew this decision. That it involved Ortiz was not a surprise. A day earlier, riding a horse named Gran Casique (Algorithms), he dropped another rider when, down the backstretch, he came over several paths on his way to trying to maintain a position on the rail. For that ride, he was hit with a 30-day careless riding suspension.
For months, Ortiz's critics have been calling him out for his overly aggressive riding style and, in particular, his penchant for herding other horses and riders. Yet, until the Gran Casique race, the NYRA stewards had more or less looked the other way. That appeared to embolden Ortiz.
Yes, the stewards did the right thing when they gave Ortiz the 30-day suspension. But they reverted to form in the Remsen. They didn't take Mo Donegal down and they didn't suspend or fine Ortiz for his ride. Once again, when it came to Ortiz, the wrong message was sent.