By Bill Finley
Seven trainers, including two of the biggest names in the sport in Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro, are among 27 individuals indicted for doping horses. The scheme involves Eclipse Award winner Maximum Security (New Year's Day), G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen winner X Y Jet (Kantharos), exotic drugs you've never heard of and the killing of horses to hide the evidence. It does not get any uglier.
With this, coming on top of the breakdowns and fatalities at Santa Anita, many were left to wonder if the sport can survive another devastating scandal. That's a reasonable fear. But I choose to believe this will prove to be the moment that horse racing came together and finally got serious about cheating and put an end to it. I am not alone.
“Obviously, it's extremely sad for horse racing that we have had this going on, but honestly, I'm not surprised at all,” trainer Mark Casse said. “When it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, it's usually a duck. And now the important thing is to build on this because you are only looking at two of the biggies. We have to go in and clean up our sport and clean it up now. There is more to come. This is a great day, a very satisfying day.”
He doesn't see this ending until Servis, Navarro and others serve prison time.
“These guys are going to go to jail and that's where they need to go,” he said.
Casse was out front on this, coming out last week against the abuse of the drug Clenbuterol. Clenbuterol seems like kid stuff now that we have heard about drugs SGF-100, Red Acid, Erythropoietin, BB3 and “Monkey” and the rest of the poison these guys were said to be using on their horses. With its indictments, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York told the racing public what the racing public already knew–that an awful lot of horse races were decided not by who had the best horse but who had the best drugs.
“You know how many millions in purse earnings I have lost and my owners have lost over the years because of these guys?” Casse said. “I have a big training center and my wife and I have spent millions of dollars, trying to do the right thing by the horse and we get beat by drugs. You know how frustrating that is?”
Extremely. But not so much if the sport has finally been punched in the gut to the point where it will act. And that doesn't mean lip service, half measures or more fines for bute overages. It means regarding this as a crisis that calls for drastic action.
“I think it is a devastating day when our sport is shown to be so corrupt and unethical,” trainer Graham Motion said. “There's nothing good about it. The fact that we are not capable of policing our own sport is tragic. That's what this has come to. At the end of the day, if they catch the bad guys I guess it's a good thing, but you have to ask, 'Why did it have to get to this point?' I'm guessing we haven't seen the end of it. If ever there is a case for passing the Horse Racing Integrity Act, this is it. We cannot police our own sport. We have to do something about it, we can't just keep on creating committees. We have to stop the cheats.”
Motion isn't wrong. The Horse Racing Integrity Act won't put an end to all cheating. There's too much money involved and too many ways to beat the system. But, in the aftermath of the 27 indictments, how can anybody be against trying something different, something that figures to have more teeth than the patchwork system we now have? That means you, Churchill Downs, and you, the Association of Racing Commissioners International, and you, horsemen's groups across the sport.
That means Gary West coming out with an emphatic statement denouncing Servis and announcing that Maximum Security and the rest of his horses have been turned over to a new trainer. That means all of Servis's and Navarro's owners doing the same thing.
These are just some of the steps. There must be zero tolerance when it comes to doping and cheaters.
Every track and racing commission must step up and bolster its out-of-competition testing program. More money needs to be devoted to improving existing testing methods. Tracks have to be much more willing to exercise their rights to ban a participant. Navarro, Servis and the other trainers involved can't be the only ones who were cheating. There are dozens, maybe even hundreds, more who are cheating the sport, the betting public, the honest horsemen and putting the very future of the sport at risk.
“For someone who has been in the sport their entire life, I've come to the point in my life where it's not about me,” Casse said. “I'm not going to do this forever. It's more about our sport staying around and letting my sons and other young people have a future. It has to be cleaned up. I look at today as a new beginning. This is only the beginning. Anybody who is doing the wrong thing out there better be tied on and be ready because we are coming after you.”
Casse had better be right. The future of the sport depends on it.