Perhaps the biggest scandal in all of U.S. sports to come out in the past year is the federal indictment of dozens of horse racing insiders alleged to have been involved in doping leading racehorses.
And while the initial indictments came on March 9, other indictments trickled out even as the COVID-19 disaster overtook virtually the entire news cycle. But the stunning allegations are no less stunning because of the timing. The main indictment had as its stars Monmouth Park thoroughbred big names Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis — but later ones placed Yonkers Raceway and its harness racing leading lights in its target.
Rene Allard, who at $5.8 million in purse winnings was third in the industry in North America last year, has been charged in a conspiracy involving longtime veterinarian Louis Grasso, who was indicted on Feb. 26 for allegedly misbranding drugs in interstate commerce.
Last fall, according to the indictment, Grasso and another alleged co-conspirator, Ross Cohen, discussed the fact that a number of Allard’s horses had died.
The disturbing conversation
Cohen, according to the indictment, asked Grasso, “What’s going on with the Allard death camp?”
Grasso then said “two or maybe three” horses have died from “amino acids” that caused “high fever, kidneys shut down.”
“One of them just died on the table, they just cut him open and poof it died,” Grasso is alleged to have said.
Cohen: “Holy f-ck f-ck did they do an autopsy.”
Grasso: “Their heart rate was like triple they were breathing real heavy their membranes were going f-cking purple.”
Allard — second in earnings at Yonkers so far this year — also is alleged to have sent a text message to Grasso in October 2019 that read: “I will need 3 bottles of red Acid [an anti-inflammatory drug] to go to canada Thursday.”
Per the indictment, a barn raid on March 9 in Middletown, N.Y. — where Allard stabled a number of horses — led to the discovery of multiple syringes and numerous bottles of mislabeled drugs.
Other harness racing figures indicted
Banca owns the Middletown, N.Y. facility that was raided, according to his indictment.
“Flynn has stated, in substance and in part, that Flynn administers horses owned, trained, or otherwise under Banca’ s control, with PEDs at Banca’s direction,” the indictment alleges.
Banca first rose up to the top ranks at Yonkers in 2015, producing 174 winners — more than double his previous best — and another 200 in 2016.
Allard and Banca were the two trainers involved in a controversy at the Meadowlands Racetrack in 2017, when each — already banned at that track by owner Jeff Gural — turned over the reins of horses that were then allowed to race.
Among the PEDs involved aside from “red acid”:
- Erythropoietin, better known by brand name Epogen and nicknamed “epo” in the industry and designed to improve endurance
- A variety of “pain shots” or “joint blocks” designed to deaden a horse’s nerves, which can result in leg fractures that require a racehorse to be euthanized
- Bronchodilators, or “Bronk,” designed to increase a horse’s oxygen intake
The latest indictments, if proven, echo the callousness for the welfare of racehorses demonstrated in the Navarro and Servis indictments.
In February 2019, Servis is alleged to have warned Navarro via text about a racing official. Navarro then allegedly told another conspirator, “He would have caught our asses f-cking pumping and pumping and fuming every f-cking horse that runs today.”
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