Monmouth Park Seeks Sweeping Changes Following Horse Doping Indictments; Opening Day Delayed

Dennis Drazin, whose Darby Development company runs Monmouth Park for the New Jersey thoroughbred horsemen, made two significant announcements on Monday.
One was what the adjustment to Monmouth Park’s “summer meet” schedule does to federal guidelines regarding the coronavirus crisis. The other was in regard to a different, but also significant crisis: The indictment of more than two dozen individuals involved in the U.S. horse racing industry – some with close ties to his Oceanport track.
The economic rebound for Monmouth Park in the wake of an annual purse subsidy from the state legislature as well as the advent of sports betting had led Drazin and his staff to design an expanded racing date schedule moving opening day this year up to May 2. Now, it is pushed back to May 23.
“The new opening date will return us to our previous traditional opening date,” Drazin said in a statement. “The reality is, with a May 2 opening, we’ll only miss five racing days.
“We’d rather give plenty of notice now, rather than continue on a wait-and-see approach. We firmly believe this slight delay will prove beneficial, across the board, in the long run.”

No place for NJ horse racing fans to go

Not only did Gov. Phil Murphy direct all Atlantic City casinos closed by 8 p.m. Monday, the ban on gatherings of more than 50 people also has led Monmouth Park to close its sportsbook and simulcasting locations.
The same goes for the Meadowlands racetrack’s sportsbook and simulcasting operations, as well as off-track wagering sites such as those in Bayonne, Woodbridge, and other locations around the state.
So if you want to bet on a horse race, such as those going on at Aqueduct Raceway, is the lone place to go. For sports betting – not that there is much going on these days – the places to go are more than a dozen mobile wagering sites, listed here by DGE.

Big changes ahead for NJ thoroughbred racing?

Drazin’s statement on the indictments – including Monmouth Park’s seven-time defending champion trainer Jorge Navarro and 2019 Hambletonian champion trainer Jason Servis.
“First and foremost, Monmouth Park and Darby Development, as well as I personally, condemn the use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) or any drugs which are illegal to be used in our industry…
“The NJRC has diligently tested for drugs for many years and utilized respected reputable labs to do so. I am a former Chairman of the NJRC , and can assure you that our regulators take their jobs seriously and endeavor to catch all cheaters.
Regarding the indictments, if proven, they threaten the very integrity of our sport and must be seriously addressed…. I am calling upon our New Jersey legislature to enact a more comprehensive form of sweeping reforms than currently has been stalled in Washington, otherwise known as the Horseracing Integrity Act (HIA).”

Specifics on recommended horse racing reforms

“I have already started the process of asking the State of New Jersey to pass legislation, which in addition to the worthwhile reforms contained in the HIA, will include more widespread reforms including, but not limited to: racetrack safety and integrity; racetrack surface safety inspections; increased examination of horses who intend to race or train at our racetracks; jockey health and safety; changes in the whip rule; post-racing aftercare for horses; uniformity in medication rules and penalties; sharing of all veterinary reports among interested parties; and many other needed reforms.
“The only permitted medication use on race day will be Lasix. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) has remained steadfast that the therapeutic use of Lasix is a medical necessity and the elimination of same would not be in the best interest of horses or their riders……
“Furthermore, I am also requesting that the legislature authorize the NJRC to develop a pharmacy located at the racetrack and that no drugs or medication can be in the possession of anyone, even veterinarians on the racetrack, unless it is obtained from the track-regulated pharmacy.
“I am also requesting the legislature to authorize the NJRC to contact the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) or any other drug-testing agency or laboratory of their recommendation to retain their services for the immediate control of our drug testing. The NJRC and New Jersey Attorney General’s Office will continue to regulate horse racing in New Jersey. These reforms will help restore public confidence in our sport.

“I should also reinforce that unfortunately, two of Monmouth Park’s own trainers were indicted and although they also raced in New York, Florida, and elsewhere, we must accept the fact that we have to do a better job, even though these offenses are handled by our regulators. In that regard, additional discussions will be pursued with our regulators about the feasibility of enhancing camera security in our barns and purchasing additional equipment for horse diagnostics to detect preexisting injuries and other safety risks…..

“I should also add that this indictment is particularly sad in that Jason Servis was my trainer. During my 45 years as an attorney, Chairman of the NJRC and racetrack operator, I have always advocated that cheating cannot be tolerated and I would never tolerate illegal conduct.”
The suggested reforms are indeed sweeping, but Drazin may be received with skepticism by some in the horse racing community.
Ray Paulick, author of the influential “Paulick Report” and a longtime horse racing insider, reacted to the statement with this tweet: “Everyone but Dennis Drazin seemed to know that @MonmouthPark was a safe haven for cheaters.”
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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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