During the past four years, The Jockey Club and Meadowlands Racetrack have retained the services of a leading international investigative company, and that association might have paid a dividend in the recent federal indictments of Thoroughbred trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro as well as several harness racing trainers in a doping scheme.
Through the recommendation of officials from the United States Anti-Doping Agency and the World Anti-Doping Agency, The Jockey Club turned to 5 Stones intelligence in 2016 to provide confidential investigative services.
"It is vitally important to the sport that it is regulated competently and by authorities that are independent," said James Gagliano, the president and chief operating officer for The Jockey Club. "That is a hallmark of the Horseracing Integrity Act, and it has never been more important to the sport, given the events of this week."
Meadowlands owner Jeff Gural, who operates a harness racing meet at the New Jersey racetrack, said he also employed 5 Stones and that information from 5 Stones played a role in the federal indictments of 29 people that were announced March 9-11 by the United States District Attorney, Southern District of New York.
"We participated with The Jockey Club in retaining (5 Stones) to help lead the FBI in the right direction," Gural said.
Gural echoed the call for passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act, saying racetracks have been turning a blind eye to cheaters for far too long. "All the racetrack owners in the country who said they cared about this didn't care. They had to know the only way to catch these guys was through undercover and surveillance companies. Without them, you were just giving lip service that you cared," Gural said. "There's no gray area when it comes to honesty. Everyone knew the system was broken, but no one cared about it. There's no way we can tell people in politics that we care if we don't let the USADA take over. The funny thing is that when I would talk to people who oppose the government taking over, the next thing I would ask is if the current system is working, and 100% would say no. I don't understand that. They knew the system wasn't working, and they were happy with it.
Servis, who trains recent Saudi Cup winner Maximum Security, who was disqualified from first to 17th in last year's Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1), and Navarro, the seven-time leading trainer at Monmouth Park, are scheduled to be arraigned March 23 on charges of a misbranding conspiracy.
BloodHorse reported March 14 that Servis and Navarro could appear before the New York federal court for arraignment and initial conference either in person or by telephone conference in a concession to travel difficulties because of COVID-19.
The indictment charged that Servis had performance-enhancing drugs administered to "virtually all of the racehorses under his care" and that Navarro orchestrated "a widespread scheme of covertly obtaining and administering various adulterated and misbranded PEDs to horses under his control."
Navarro is facing two counts of the misbranding charge, each carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison. Servis was charged with one count and could be imprisoned for up to five years if found guilty.
Among the harness trainers indicted are Rene Allard, who was third in North American earnings last year, Richard Banca, Nick Surick, Chris Oakes, Chris Marino, Rick Dane Jr., and assistant trainer Conor Flynn.
Allard, Banca, Oakes and Marino were barred by Gural from racing at Meadowlands prior to the indictments. Banca and Allard are the runaway leaders at the current Yonkers Raceway meet, combining for 367 wins in 2020 before racing was suspended due to COVID-19 after the March 9 card.
Gural believes there will be more indictments in the weeks and months to come.
"People will (provide information to authorities)," Gural said. "Anyone who used these people who were indicted cannot be sleeping well."
Source: Blood Horse
Bill creating new horse-racing authority amid track deaths draws opposition from Kentucky Derby owner, Churchill Downs
The bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754), which will eradicate horse doping, has the majority of U.S. Representatives supporting it, but Monmouth Park and Churchill Downs object to the bill.
A Hall of Fame jockey and animal-welfare advocates were among those pushing this week for a bill that would establish a new authority overseeing U.S. horse racing, but the bipartisan Horseracing Integrity Act also is drawing flak from Kentucky Derby owner Churchill Downs Inc. and other industry players.
“Right now, there are almost no controls on what therapeutics horses are given while in training,” retired jockey Chris McCarron said at a House subcommittee’s hearing.
“The status quo — with 38 different states governing one industry with 38 different sets of rules and penalties and numerous different laboratories doing the testing using different standards — is just not working,” added McCarron, who rode the winner at two Kentucky Derbies, as he backed the legislation.
The bill aims to create a new anti-doping authority, and it has found support amid a rash of horse deaths at racetracks last year. For example, 38 horses died in 2019 at Southern California’s Santa Anita Park, which has instituted drug-use reforms. The legislation looks likely to pass in the House, given that more than half of the Democratic-led chamber’s members have signed on as co-sponsors of it.
But top officials from New Jersey’s Monmouth Park Racetrack and the Association of Racing Commissioners International spoke out against the Horseracing Integrity Act at Tuesday’s hearing, and Churchill Downs Inc. also voiced its concerns with the bill.
“I’m opposed to federal legislation. I don’t think federal legislation should be in our business,” said Dennis Drazin, Monmouth Park’s chairman and CEO, speaking to members of the House Energy & Commerce Committee’s consumer protection subcommittee.
“And although I’ve been opposed to federal legislation, I want to be part of the solution — not part of the problem — in preventing this. I’ve worked hard with my colleagues on the NTRA special committee to come up with comprehensive solutions for you,” Drazin added, referring to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association.
The bill “duplicates a framework that’s already in existence,” said Edward Martin, ACRI’s president and CEO, during the Capitol Hill hearing. “The goal of trying to get to uniformity is a very good goal. We believe there’s substantial uniformity, but not total uniformity, with regard to the testing in the labs. The labs are accredited, and we think you can achieve uniformity by adopting the ARCI model rules.”
“We will continue to implement meaningful procedures at Churchill Downs that address the safety and welfare of our equine and human athletes, and this commitment extends to working with industry leaders and regulators,” the company added.
The Horseracing Integrity Act was the top focus of Churchill Downs Inc.’s Washington lobbying efforts last year, according to a Center for Responsive Politics analysis of disclosures. The bill was reintroduced in the House a year ago by Republican Rep. Andy Barr of Kentucky and Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York. They’ve been rolling out versions of the legislation since 2015.
Barr told the subcommittee on Tuesday that his bill will “advance the safety, the integrity and the international competitiveness of the sport.”
“This idea that federal legislation is the wrong way to go — if you go back to The Jockey Club minutes from the 1970s and the 1980s, when they were discussing medication reform, they were saying back then that we don’t need federal legislation. The efforts to reform the industry by the industry itself — the efforts through interstate compacts — have failed,” the GOP congressman said.
The Jockey Club, an organization that maintains the breed registry for thoroughbreds, is part of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity, a group that supports Barr and Tonko’s bill. The measure has an “excellent” chance of becoming law, said The Jockey Club’s president and chief operating officer, Jim Gagliano. It’s expected to pass the House with “strong support,” and there is “also strong support in the Senate with 24 senators co-sponsoring the bill,” he said.
“This bill does not create new federal bureaucracy but rather an independent and private authority to manage racehorse medications, which should be a positive with the Trump administration,” Gagliano added.
Source: Market Watch
After a tumultuous year in which dozens of horses died at the fabled Santa Anita Park, officials put in place a slew of groundbreaking reforms before the start of the 2019 fall meeting: tough new drug restrictions, the addition of four more veterinarians to oversee the horses, new rules on when horses could be trained and when they had to be stabled at the park before a race. Horses were already being blood-tested before races for evidence of “milkshaking”— in which a horse is given the performance enhancing drug sodium bicarbonate through a tube up the nose. Also, horses are randomly drug-tested after races.
It was the surge in deaths over a few weeks at the park earlier this year that raised an alarm at the track and a public outcry that put the park and the sport in general under an extraordinary scrutiny — and rightly so. That alarm led to the reforms now in place.
According to statistics compiled by the Jockey Club, of the roughly 49,000 thoroughbred horses that raced last year, 493 suffered racing fatalities. That doesn’t include training deaths. The average death per start — a start occurs each time a horse begins a race — in the U.S. last year was 1.68 deaths per 1,000 starts. Santa Anita last year was above average with 2.04 deaths per 1,000 starts. But other parks had worse records.
The idea is to institute reforms that bring down fatalities dramatically. Death should not be a regular or acceptable byproduct of horse racing. Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December.
But even more can and should be done. Advocates from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have urged Santa Anita to put in a CT scanner that can take images of all four legs of a horse at once. Park veterinarians say they are working on finding the right one. The more varied diagnostic tools the park has, says Santa Anita’s chief veterinary officer, Dionne Benson, the better they can evaluate the condition of horses before they’re cleared to race.
Santa Anita appears to be working hard on this. In addition to the reforms above, new diagnostic tools — a standing MRI machine and a PET scanner — should be in place by the start of the next racing season at the end of December. But even more can and should be done.
The park should also put in a place a central pharmacy from which all drugs would be obtained. Benson supports this as a way to monitor all the drugs given to horses during the days or weeks that they are at Santa Anita. (The track would enforce this through its on-site investigators and the hundreds of cameras in place.) And the park should seriously consider replacing its dirt track with a synthetic track. The park did this once before and took it out. It can be difficult to maintain but there is evidence that there are fewer fatalities on it. And the park has to continue to police trainers. The park has already banished trainers whose horses have suffered disproportionate fatalities.
Meanwhile, Congress should pass the Horseracing Integrity Act, creating an independent horse-racing authority to set nationwide rules.
The troubling thing is that even experts such as Benson are stumped by what is causing the recent deaths at Santa Anita and elsewhere. It would help if Benson had the necropsies of all the horses. The L.A. district attorney’s office set up a task force to investigate the deaths six months ago and the results are still not public nor does the office have a time frame for when they will be released. Benson says her goal is “safe horse racing with zero fatalities,” but she acknowledges how difficult it will be to get to that.
Hopefully, even more changes at the park will get Santa Anita closer. If it can’t, and if no racing park in the United States can, then the inescapable question for elected officials and the public in California and across the nation is: Do we want to continue a sport — even a historic and beloved sport — in which horses’ lives are routinely sacrificed so that people can be entertained?
Source: Los Angeles Times Editorial Board
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