New Details On Doping Probe: Three Controversial NJ Horse Racing Trainers Indicted

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Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis were so remarkably successful as Monmouth Park thoroughbred racing trainers that some in the industry thought it was almost too good to be true — while others didn’t use the word “almost.”

On Monday, both were among 27 indicted by the District Attorney for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan on felony charges of a scheme to administer performance-enhancing drugs to their racehorses, including Servis’ Maximum Security and Navarro’s XY Jet. Navarro and Servis each were arrested, authorities said.

Nick Surick, a prominent Meadowlands Racetrack harness racing trainer who also is involved in New Jersey’s thoroughbred industry, also was indicted on similar grounds.

“These customized drugs were designed to be undetectable to normal testing protocols,” Goeffrey Berman, the U.S. district attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a press conference on Monday.

The drugs were not only illegal but “dangerous,” Berman added as he described “a corrupt scheme to manufacture, create, purchase, distribute, transport, sell, and administer a wide variety of misbranded and adulterated PEDs.”

Both Navarro and Servis entered horses in more than 1,000 races from 2018 until February 2020, according to the indictment.

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Horses in the alleged scheme raced in New Jersey, New York, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and the United Arab Emirates. The doping “masked a horse’s ability to feel pain, thereby causing the horse to overexert itself during periods of intense exercise, which can lead to accidents, broken limbs, or death.”

The tragedy of XY Jet

XY Jet, who won the Golden Shaheen Stakes last year, died of what was described as a heart attack in January. The horse was just eight years old.

“Since his arrival at my stable at the end of 2014, I immediately felt that connection with him, which remained until today and will surely remain with me until the day of my departure,” Navarro said in a statement at the time. “I owe XY Jet so much, that I’m sure there are no words that can specify my thanks to his nobility and class. I do not say goodbye to a horse, I say goodbye to a friend that I will carry forever in my heart.”

Maximum Security, who was disqualified as winner of the 2019 Kentucky Derby due to interference with other horses, just won the same race on Feb. 29. The horse also won the $1 million Haskell Invitational last summer.

Navarro had won the last seven training titles at Monmouth Park, which resumes its annual meet in May.

Last summer, Navarro said, “Monmouth Park is my home. That’s why these things are so special to me.

“Winning a title at any track is never easy. People don’t see how much work goes into it behind the scenes and in the mornings. It takes a great team and great teamwork, and when you’re competing with guys like Jason Servis … nothing comes easy.”

Servis and Surick

Servis complained in 2018 about rumors that he was not an ethical trainer.

“People are talking a lot of sh-t,” Servis said, “and I’m really not happy about it.

“I’ve only been training about 20 years. Am I getting better at it? Probably. I’m just on an unbelievable run right now. Some of the horses are winning, and they’re surprising me.”

Another alleged co-conspirator, Nicholas Surick of Freehold, was a successful harness racing trainer at the Meadowlands Racetrack who entered horses in more than 3,000 races from 2018-2020.

In 2013, Surick — who had his license briefly suspended by the New Jersey Racing Commission five years later — had his own gripes about negative rumors.

“This is the only game I know where you get punished for doing good,” said Surick. “I don’t want to be known as a cheater … I can take [the criticism]but it isn’t fair to my owners, employees, and blacksmiths that help put me in the position I’m in.”

In the indictment, Surick is alleged to have “orchestrated a widespread scheme of covertly obtaining and administering adulterated and misbranded PEDs to the racehorses under his control, including ‘red acid’ and other substances.” He also is alleged to have supplied Navarro with red acid and a “shockwave machine” alleged to have led to blockage of pain in the horses.

Northern Virgin, a standardbred horse, is alleged to have been administered epogen by Surick shortly before an unannounced Dec. 17, 2018 drug testing sought by the racing commission. Surick is alleged to have hidden the horse to avoid a failed drug test, then have the horse shipped to Ohio the next day.

Overall, PEDs listed in the indictment also include epogen, “monkey,” “BB3,” and “SGF-1000.”

Damning discussions about horses

The indictment alleges that on Feb. 1, 2019, Surick said of Navarro to a New Jersey thoroughbred trainer, Michael Tannuzzo, “Do you know how many f—ing horses [Navarro] f—ing killed and broke down that I made disappear… You know how much trouble he could get in … if they found out … the six horses we killed?”

The indictment also alleges that on Feb. 19, 2019, Servis warned Navarro via text about a racing official. Later that day, Navarro allegedly told another conspirator, “He would have caught our asses f—ing pumping and pumping and fuming every f—ing horse that runs today.”

On March 5, 2019, according to the indictment, Servis recommended “SGF” to Navarro, saying, “I’ve been using it on everything, almost.” Navarro allegedly replied that he had at least a dozen horses on SGF, adding, “I don’t want to talk about this sh– on the phone, OK?”

A co-conspirator of Servis’ allegedly reassured Servis after a June 5, 2019 test by the New Jersey Racing Commission by saying, “There’s no test for [SGF] in America.”

Another defendant, Pennsylvania trainer Chris Oakes, was involved in a controversy at the Meadowlands in 2016 for allegedly “failing to cooperate with an agreed-upon surveillance and out-of-competition testing program.”

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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John Brennan

John Brennan has covered NJ and NY sports business and gaming since 2002 and was a Pulitzer Prize Finalist in 2008, while reporting for The Bergen County Record.

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