Zulueta Joins Growing List of Plea-Changers in Doping Case


Sarah Andrew photo


Marcos Zulueta, the now-barred Thoroughbred trainer facing two felony charges in the alleged nationwide horse-doping conspiracy case, appears on the verge of joining the growing list of defendants flipping their initial “not guilty” pleas to “guilty.”

On Thursday, Zulueta, formerly based in the mid-Atlantic region, was granted an Oct. 15 change-of-plea hearing in United States District Court (Southern District of New York).

If Zulueta does indeed end up pleading guilty, his flip will be the eighth in the wide-ranging case that initially included 28 defendants listed in the original indictment from March 2020.

Although not considered a “headline” trainer like fellow defendants Jorge Navarro (who has admitted to doping horses and faces five years in prison when he is sentenced in December) or Jason Servis (who maintains he is not guilty and has a trial date approaching in 2022), Zulueta's name surfaced frequently in wire-tapped conversations secretly recorded by federal investigators before they charged him with one count of drug adulteration and another for conspiracy to defraud using misbranded drugs.

According to a trove of phone conversation transcripts released as evidence by the government in September court documents, on Apr. 3, 2019, Zulueta and Navarro allegedly discussed the testability of a drug administered to the elite-level sprinter X Y Jet (Kantharos), who was trained (and admittedly doped) by Navarro.

X Y Jet died suddenly eight months after that call while still under Navarro's care. The circumstances of the horse's death have never been fully explained.

In another conversation between Navarro and Zulueta from around the same time frame, Navarro and Zulueta allegedly discussed a performance-enhancing “drench” that Navarro described as “a milkshake that…won't show up” that is to be administered “the day of the race.”

At one point, Navarro allegedly boasted, “Marcos I drenched two today and [the creator of the substance] says you can take their blood and nothing will come out,” unlike other drenches where “they catch you.”

During another wire-tapped call, Zulueta allegedly cautions Navarro about the dangers of winning too often with doped horses.

“Yeah, you should be happy-happy-happy that you are not winning all of them,” Zulueta allegedly said, according to the transcript. “Otherwise, you will be arrested.”

Zulueta's words ended up being prophetic: On March 9, 2020, both trainers, plus 26 others, were taken into federal custody in a coordinated series of arrests.

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