By Jonathan Stempel
NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors said 27 trainers, veterinarians, drug distributors and others, including the trainer of Maximum Security, have been criminally charged in a wide-ranging scheme to drug horses and cheat bettors in the $100 billion professional horse racing industry.
The charges, contained in four indictments, are a black eye for an industry long tainted by allegations that horses have been drugged to improve their performance on the track.
“What actually happened to the horses amounted to nothing less than abuse,” William Sweeney, assistant director-in-charge of the FBI’s New York office, said at a news conference.
The defendants include Maximum Security trainer Jason Servis, who according to prosecutors covertly administered performance-enhancing drugs to that horse and “virtually all of the racehorses under his control.”
Maximum Security, one of the world’s best racehorses, won last month’s $20 million Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race. He also appeared to have won the 2019 Kentucky Derby, before being disqualified for interference.
Prosecutors said Servis entered horses in some 1,082 races between 2018 and last month, while another defendant trainer, Jorge Navarro, entered horses in 1,480 races over that time.
Servis’ lawyer Todd Onore and Navarro’s lawyer Jason Kreiss said their respective clients will plead not guilty.
Bond was set at $100,000 for Servis and $200,000 for Navarro at hearings in the federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, court records show.
The 27 defendants were accused of involvement in one or more drug alteration and misbranding conspiracies to deceive regulators, racing officials and the betting public, with each charge carrying a maximum five-year prison term.
Two defendants also face smuggling or obstruction charges, each with a maximum 20-year prison term.
Authorities said horses were secretly given adulterated PEDs including blood builders, pain shots, bronchodilators and “red acid” to boost performance by stimulating endurance, deadening nerves, increasing oxygen intake and reducing inflammation.
Instead, Sweeney said “they experienced cardiac issues, overexertion leading to leg fractures, increased risk of injury, and in some cases death. Conversely, the human beings involved in this scheme continued to line their purses.”
Prosecutors said races were affected in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Kentucky, Ohio and the United Arab Emirates.
Animal rights advocates and other industry Critics have demanded changes, or banning racing altogether, following a recent rash of horse fatalities.
These have included several dozen deaths at southern California’s Santa Anita Park since the middle of 2018.
Travis Tygart, head of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, said fans should be outraged at the doping allegations, and called for an independent anti-doping body to police horse racing.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel and Brendan Pierson; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)