The Fix is in, juicing horses is a major part of cheating and race fixing in horse racing.
The Juice is the second article in a series of Past the Wire articles I decided to do on one of the most troubling and damaging aspects of thoroughbred horse racing, the Sport of Kings. It destroys every part of the sport we love. The horses, the owners, the breeders, the trainers, the bettors, nobody is exempt from the damage done by juicing horses. The term itself makes many of us cringe and rightfully so if you ask me.
Before we get into this horrific practice, you may want to check out the first article in the series;
If Oscar Barrera was a juicer there never was or will be one that was better. He was never caught, at least not officially and consistently defied what any true student of the game believed was possible. It would be fair to call his followers and supporters a cult. Though at times they, myself included, behaved like a cult, it was a financial windfall. The believers were making money in as much of a sure fire way you will ever see in horse racing.
Anyone who knows me is aware I am an animal lover, and more involved in rescue than I let be known. Accordingly, I think it is appropriate to address my casual friendship with Oscar Barrera, and my wagering money, at times large sums, on his horses while the crowds cheered him on not by name, not by number, not by jockey, but by:
“Juice, juice, juice,”
which is exactly what you heard echoing through Belmont, Aqueduct and Saratoga grandstands and clubhouses when he ran one. Often my voice was one of the thousands. I was young, had much to learn, had dropped out of school and was making money faster than I could spend or count it. As they say, it is a shame youth is wasted on the young. Back at that time I never thought about the damage to the horses, let alone the sport. It was a fast and lucrative payday I became dependent on. I drove fast and fancy cars Oscar’s horses paid for. I lived a lifestyle well above my means and background and always had a large roll of cash in my pocket. Sometimes “juice” was substituted by “Oscar, Oscar, Oscar”, but seldom if ever by the horse’s name, jockey, or number. None of that mattered, it was the juice and a mockery of any integrity the Sport of Kings laid claim to. With Oscar it ended abruptly, with no official action, statement, or disposition ever made public. Let us not kid ourselves and keep it real. It hardly started or ended with Oscar who to this day remains a mystery as to what if anything he did was not legal or within the rules. Like my Dad and our dear friend Joe Todaro used to say and laugh about many a day at the racetrack:
“those who know don’t say and those who say don’t know.”Giuseppe
I think it is important to define juice, or juicing as I intend to refer to it in this article. It can have different meanings to different people and I don’t think just because a substance or drug can be performance enhancing, it is what I refer to as juice. For example we play a game where people have been caught using frog juice and cobra venom to dull pain. Dulling pain can be performance enhancing and cause form reversals. I do not consider that juicing though some may. Cheating, yes, absolutely, but in my opinion not juicing per se.
Milk-shaking or tubing a horse is performance enhancing. For those who do not know what it is, a milkshake in horse racing is a concoction of bicarbonate of soda, water, sugar and electrolytes, and who knows what else nowadays which is administered to a racehorse through a tube inserted down its nose into its stomach, several hours before a race. Theoretically, milkshakes battle fatigue by preventing the build-up of lactic acid in muscles. A horse who has been milk-shaked may not tire and might re-break. It can also be called tubing.
Sponging a horse involves placing a sponge in a horse’s nostrils to reduce airflow and breathing capacity. This is the opposite of performance enhancing and certainly not juicing. It is cheating however, and can certainly enhance the performance of horses without sponges in their nostrils.
Using drugs off label, legal drugs at that, can be performance enhancing and I would say is a very narrow line as to if it does or doesn’t constitute juicing. For the purpose of this article I’ll say no. That is not to condone the practice, and each case of this is different and they have varying effects which may not always be bad, but that is an entirely different conversation. Today it is about juicing.
Frog juice, cobra venom, off label drugs, milk-shaking, sponging, it hardly sounds as if we are taking about a highly regulated big money game like the Sport of Kings thoroughbred horse racing. We haven’t even mentioned batteries or buzzers, steroids, or gotten into the juice. Cocaine has even been found in racehorses. Now that I would have to call juice. Scary as it may be, we are probably only at the tip of the iceberg. I always say you only have to see the tip of the iceberg, once you see the tip you already know what is under the water.
I call juice any drug or substance or concoction or mixture of drugs and substances designed or expected to enhance a horse’s speed and or stamina thus performance.
We are all familiar with the Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro indictments and pending cases. We have all heard the whispers about additional pending indictments and also about some of the coconspirators cooperating. We will all watch how that plays out. One of the substances Servis and Navarro are accused of using is SGF-1000. Some of you may not know what it is or what it is used for. I didn’t. It is apparently still for sale, and still available with detailed explanations about what it does. Here is a link to Vecta Animal Health where it looks like you can buy it. It is my understanding part of the Servis and Navarro defense will be SGF-1000 is not a performance enhancer or at least has never been proven to be.
Most believe the sure fire sign of a trainer using juice is having a high winning percentage. Stuart Janney recently commented with the introduction of the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act that high percentage trainers should be prepared to answer tough questions. I agree with him in theory, but I think the whole high percentage thing is misleading and dangerous to the sport long term. High percentages today do not mean what they did years ago. Trainers today are much more conscious of percentages and high percentages attract more owners and horses. Trainers run horses for lower prices than they may be worth or were claimed for with frequency, and higher purses allow them to do this. There are many therapeutic medications available to help with common ailments trainers use regularly. Lasix use is widespread in every jurisdiction in the US. All this leads to higher win percentages and it is not the tell we’d like to think it is. The low percentage trainer who juices a horse once or twice a year and takes down two nice scores while going 5-10% wins on the year is just as guilty and dangerous to the game as the trainer allowing greed to get the better of them and winning at 35% or even close to 50% which we do see especially off the claim. It all has to be stopped and there is a way to do it if the industry truly wants to. While I support the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act because we need change and something is better than the next to nothing we now have, I do not for a second think it is the answer.
The juicers will always be ahead of the testers. It has to be that way. It is as simple as the science of it. People will always try to use something to enhance performance. You cannot test for something you don’t know is being used let alone what it even is. This is why the cheaters always have the leg up. We can change that though, and I will get to it.
Looking at some of the substances we’ve discussed should tell you some people will try anything to get an edge. There is literally nothing they will not do to a racehorse to try and enhance their performance. It gets worse. In the first article of the series I mentioned shocking even the most seasoned students of the game.
Sometimes rumors are just that, rumors. Believe half of what you see and none of what you hear they say. “They” are not always right and while that is a good practice most of the time, it is not 100%. Not long ago I heard a story or rumor about something that was going on at one of the major tracks and meets in the country. I do not know if it is true, but based on what I have seen in this game, how I heard it, what I observed surrounding it, I believe there is a very good chance it is true.
A trainer was winning at a high percentage and fell under scrutiny. The trainer’s horses started getting tested frequently and their barn was even placed under surveillance. That much I know was true. The trainer continued to win at a good clip and the testing and surveillance seemed to have no impact. What I heard was this trainer had the veterinarians they were working with tranquilize other contenders who were in races with their horses. Those contenders ran bad, and were not scrutinized. The trainer in question ran their horses clean and continued to win until eventually the heat was off. Sounds crazy but is it? We all remember seeing Masochistic win the third race on Kentucky Derby day by 14 plus lengths. Sharp bettors knew something didn’t sit right in the wagering from the opening odds through charting the will pays to the exactas. What they did not know was that Masochistic was given Acepromazine, a tranquilizer in his previous race at Santa Anita. 40 times the allowed limit to be exact. It makes the story or rumor I heard, whatever you chose to call it a bit more plausible. Who is going to look at the losers when everyone is trying to catch the winner and has their eyes on them?
Bettors, especially sharp ones are as good as anyone at spotting juicers or any cheaters in horse racing. The ones who think it only comes down to percentages are missing the boat.
The Balco scandal in baseball introduced us to something called the clear. HGH can make a 60 year old look and feel 40. These are substances and products we know about. How many are out there we don’t know about? How often are they developed? How often are they tried and experimented with? The past performances are clear, no pun intended. There will always be something new or ahead of the curve and there is no test for that.
You can also be sure of this. There are trainers unfairly labeled cheaters who aren’t. They’re good at what they do and out train and out work and out buy the competition. They are better horsemen. You can be equally sure there are trainers thought of as aces and honest who are anything but. There are trainers that fly completely under the radar and don’t even get mentioned in the same conversations as juicers and cheaters.
The way things are today trainers like Bill Mott and Shug McGaughey to name just two, and who are as close to hay oats and water as you’ll likely find have to defend themselves due to minuscule amounts of substances, legal substances, over the limit or outside the window due to ridiculous testing procedures and different rules in different jurisdictions. There are plenty of other trainers who find themselves in similar situations but not the juicers. Remember there is no test for what you don’t know is being used. The juicers are not going to go away by themselves, and this system and I doubt the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act is is going to do it. It took the FBI to indict Servis and Navarro et al, and the case is still pending amidst a pandemic and backed up criminal justice system that already moves slowly and probably has horse racing way down low on the priority list. We also know not a lot has changed since the indictments, and certainly not from the perception viewpoint. We all saw what happened with the tragically ill fated Zenden following his monstrous race on the Dubai World Cup undercard in the Golden Shaheen. His trainer Carlos David was a long time Jason Servis assistant. It was hard to prevent it from conjuring up memories of the Jorge Navarro trained X Y Jet.
So the important question becomes how to we rid ourselves of the juicers, and maintain the competitive nature of the training business?
Several things can be done.
Every stall at every racetrack should have a camera in it always recording and being monitored by third party security.
Shed rows should also have cameras and be monitored.
Drugs have to be very limited, and I mean as close to no race day medication as possible. No race day medication would be ideal. Drugs administered should come from racetrack in house pharmacies only, and no vets should be allowed to administer anything not from said pharmacy and not properly recorded and documented.
Feed should be routinely and systematically inspected, and so should any and all supplements.
Zero tolerance towards violating any of these rules. Training and racing is a privilege not a right and should be treated as such. You juice or drug a horse you’re out. Banned. You use something under the radar, out. That is what the cameras are for.
Bettors have to demand a level playing field if they are going to invest into a skill game that pays out millions of dollars a year to those who are right. Bettors have the power as they have the money. They just have to use it.
It would be interesting to watch the trainers and horsemen winning races again as opposed to chemists.