Is Jason Servis the next to plead guilty after Jorge Navarro?

August 11, 2021

Jorge Navarro pleads guilty and faces prison time, what will that mean for horse racing in the future?

The Navarro guilty plea, what does it mean for horse racing now?

To adequately self police and regulate, the horse racing industry must question all out of the ordinary performances

As expected, disgraced trainer Jorge Navarro pled guilty in Federal Court to one felony charge of distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs with the intent to defraud and mislead.

It is no coincidence the Federal Government wins the majority of every criminal case they try. That is a large part of why only 2% or so of defendants criminally charged opt to go to trial. About 90% plead guilty. About 8% have their cases dismissed prior to trial. Of the 2% who roll the dice, and yes that is what it is you are doing regardless of the circumstances, about 85% are found guilty against around 15% who are acquitted. In a game where we calculate odds and probability you can see where a trial with the Federal Government and US Attorney prosecuting you is a bet against for the accused.

So far the Servis, Navarro et al indictments have led to guilty pleas by Veterinarians and now a trainer. If you want what we think is a good bet in this case it would be Jason Servis changes his non guilty plea to guilty in the near future. Servis, through his counsel, which by the way is the same counsel representing soon to be former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, has filed a motion to have incriminating conversations picked up on wiretaps excluded from evidence. Good luck, we suspect the motion will be denied and Servis will change his plea once that happens. Considering the odds, and the conversations, any chance of a successful defense are slim at best and none at worst.

Navarro admitted to the administration of various adulterated and misbranded performance-enhancing drugs to the deceased former racehorse X Y Jet which included a substance referred to as “monkey,” to “enhance his performance” in a Feb. 23, 2019, race at Gulfstream Park and in the Dubai Golden Shaheen a Grade 1 race that was run in March of 2019 at Meydan.

The indictment charged that the trainer personally administered the drugs while in Dubai. Navarro reported in January 2020 that X Y Jet had died of a heart attack.

You can read the United States Department of Justice release on the Navarro guilty plea here.

You can read about X Y Jet and what happened to him here.

It is no secret many people in the world of horse racing were suspicious of both Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro prior to the indictments handed down by the Justice Department. Unfortunately they are not the only two trainers who have raised the eyebrows of horsemen and astute bettors alike. Despite the indictments and guilty pleas, we continue to see form reversals and things on the racetrack that make us wonder if they are on the legit. This is not new. Horses have shown form reversals and run freakish performances for a long time. It doesn’t have to mean anything bad or underhanded is going on.

The leading older horse on the current NTRA poll is Knicks Go. Knicks Go always showed promise. He had ability and was capable of a pretty good race when trained by Ben Colebrook, a very capable horseman and trainer. Knicks Go has been a different animal since moving to the Brad Cox barn. When you look at the prior form in comparison to the current form it is quite obvious the horse is much better now than he was. Maturity, experience and training are all possibilities. There are other possibilities as well, and I and likely most of you do not know the answer. Equipment, medications, treatments, amongst other things can affect a horse’s performance.

A lot of people think Secretariat was the greatest or one of the greatest horses ever. He ran a lot of huge races. His 31 length victory in the Belmont Stakes was a freakish performance. I don’t think, nor did I ever hear anyone ever say that was the result of anything but the horses athleticism and sheer ability. Unfortunately, in todays times, for the betterment and integrity of the sport, I’d say we would have to question it the way we should question everything that goes on, and especially anything out of the ordinary.

Fort Peck would be another horse who caught the eye of many in the game when he trounced an allowance field at Saratoga last week. You can see the equibase chart here. The replay looks more impressive than the chart.

Is racing as an industry truly committed to self policing, something at which through today it would be hard to argue against an epic fail on their part? It is hard to say. To answer that question I’d like to know do the stewards ever make any formal inquiries when these type of performances or form reversals occur? If they do, the betting public for the most part is in the dark and considering they are the ones putting up their money on a product which should be on the up and up, they have as much right to know as anyone. They are not the only ones. Horses, owners, breeders, trainers, and riders all would fall into the victim category should something nefarious be going on. I am not saying it is and I am not saying it isn’t. I’ll let the facts speak for themselves. It has happened before legitimately and illegitimately. Accordingly, the questions need to be asked by those with authority to do it, be that the stewards and racing officials within the industry or law enforcement on the state or federal level outside the industry. Is HISA going to do it? We’ll see.

I’d surely hope these performances have proper explanations. It gets dicey in such a competitive game where everyone is trying to get an edge on the competition. Can we force trainers to reveal secrets and techniques they use if they are legit and legal? I think for the game to survive and grow, we are going to have to. If there is a way around it which is not more of the same I don’t see it. Proactive is better than reactive.

I remember watching Shancelot win the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga. He ran 21.79, 43.94, 1:07.63 and finished stopping the clock at 1:14.01. He ran away and hid for Jorge Navarro. I remember thinking “nah, can’t be.” This might be one of those the timer is wrong races we see so many of. He ran back in the Grade 1 Allen Jerkens again at Saratoga about a month later. He didn’t win. I watched him in the paddock and found his handling odd. Maybe it was nothing, maybe not, see what you think.

What I found odd was the offensive lineman position assumed by the pony or outrider. You don’t see that often. I asked Navarro what was up with that and he replied the horse was very skittish. Maybe he was, I’m no trainer or horseman, but he didn’t appear to be when taken out for a turn. Chad Summers who assisted Navarro saddling Shancelot is currently a trainer on the NYRA circuit.

I found it odd Brad Cox kept Knicks Go with an assistant at Ellis Park while training for the Whitney. I would think if I was a trainer, I’d want all my top Grade 1 horses with me, at Saratoga. Cox said publicly he wanted to keep the horse calm and Ellis Park was relaxing or tranquil. I have been going to Saratoga for half a century or more. I have always heard it said, and found it true myself that is very relaxing for horses and most horses enjoy the atmosphere. That said, Brad Cox knows his horse a lot better than I do, and his success is nothing short of phenomenal. he knows what he is doing and I and don’t. I am just saying the sport needs transparency in these situations if we are going to get rid of the negative perceptions and stigmas.

I am not singling out Brad Cox or Robertino Diodoro for any reason other than the recent races two of their horses ran. I am not saying, or implying they do anything they shouldn’t be when it comes to training their horses. I am saying if the industry is really committed to the horses and integrity of the sport these types of performances have to be thoroughly investigated. It is paramount if as an industry we will succeed at self policing. I do not think we will, or can, and I am not sold the industry desires it. They have too many other factors to deal with like foal crops and field size and handle. The FBI, DEA, and Justice Department don’t have that problem and it may come down to them to save us from ourselves. If the industry questioned the performance of Shancelot and properly investigated it could we have saved X Y Jet or another horse?

We now have both Veterinarians and a trainer pleading guilty. We have a Vet on tape telling Jason Servis they don’t even have a test for SGF-1000 in America. Jason Servis as we know trained Maximum Security. Maximum Security was transferred to Bob Baffert after Servis was indicted. The horse ran better for Servis than Baffert and I don’t think anyone of sound mind will argue who the better trainer and horseman is. At the hearing for the Servis motion to exclude wiretap evidence Servis’ attorneys argued in part Baffert had a horse disqualified in the Kentucky Derby. I’m less a lawyer than a horseman but I don’t see the relevancy, I do however see the humor. At least I would if this was not so sad for my industry and the horses. Newsflash, to date Baffert has not had a horse disqualified in the Kentucky Derby. Sure he likely will, but court should be based on facts no? Next newsflash, you know who has had a horse disqualified in the Kentucky Derby, yes indeed Jason Servis.

I don’t know about you, but I cringe when I see the Maximum Security breeding commercials on TV. I don’t know what that poor and very game horse was given by Servis and his Vets, and I don’t know what the potential long term effects are on his breeding ability and future offspring. I do know we all probably don’t need the risk in the game. The horses surely don’t nor do the riders risking their lives on their backs. I just don’t see the commitment from the industry.

Navarro is facing five years of incarceration. If I am correct about Servis changing his plea in the not far away future he’ll be facing similar. Do these guys or the Vets look like hard guys to you? They don’t to me and I would expect them to cooperate and talk about everyone they did any shady business with on any and every level. There are some people you can rob a bank with and while you’re all running away if they slip and fall and get caught while you don’t you can sleep well that night. Not many but some people are that way. Servis and Navarro I doubt fall into that category.

I think these guilty pleas will show the Justice Department we are an industry who failed to police itself and as a result has a lot of low hanging conviction fruit around. Hopefully the horses are important enough to keep their focus on us. I don’t think the bettors are or would be. I don’t think the industry is capable of righting the ship by itself, and as aforementioned I am not sure they even intend to give it a serious try. It’s a lot easier to point out the progress and sugar coatings than the questionable performances and horses ending up dead in shipping containers on the way to Puerto Rico.

Fortunately we have a lot of people in this sport on every level who care and strive to do things right. They are the ones keeping us alive not the ones doing it wrong. I wish those in the higher up spots in the sport could see that clearly along with the vital role the bettors and owners play. They are the ones putting money into the game while others take it out.

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Jon Stettin

Jonathan’s always had a deep love and respect for the Sport of Kings. Growing up around the game, he came about as close as anyone...

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