The New Jersey sports betting scene, and horse racing, in particular, has been hit hard recently.

The COVID-19 pandemic has closed casinos and canceled horse races while NJ residents are told to stay at home.

The real tragedy for the horse racing industry, however, comes from multiple allegations of horse doping linked to the deaths of a dozen horses in the Garden State.

A published investigation by the Asbury Park Press revealed that 19 horses trained by either Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis have died at Monmouth Park in New Jersey since 2010.

Servis and Navarro were among 27 people recently indicted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York after an investigation into horse doping.

Twelve of the dead horses were trained by Navarro and seven by Servis.

According to the Press, the 12 deaths out of the Navarro barn since 2012 are the most at Monmouth by any trainer over that period of time. Servis was second.

This is the latest in a connected thread of alleged industry improprieties.

New Jersey suspends licenses after federal indictments

New Jersey Racing Commission suspended licenses following the federal indictments and included two of Monmouth Park’s cash cows.

Navarro is known as the “Juice Man” by some in the industry for supposedly doping horses. He has been the track’s most notable trainer for several years. Servis has been the second-leading trainer for the last three years.

Why do these names matter?

Tracks need influential trainers to stable a significant number of horses on their grounds. This helps ensure that the cards will have enough contestants.

Servis, for instance, was arguably responsible for huge attendance at the Haskell Invitational last year. He decided to bring Maximum Security, the disqualified Kentucky Derby winner, to this race. The Haskell is a make-or-break affair for the Monmouth Park meet.

The last thing the track wants to do is see its heavy hitters silenced. Commissions have cozy relationships with trainers and owners because business depends on not over-regulating.

But this was too big to ignore.

Servis, according to the charges, administered a drug called SGF-1000 to Maximum Security and other horses and then conspired with a vet to cover up the doping.

Authorities say such acts of doping can cause horses to over-exert themselves, potentially leading to their deaths.

Under rules governing New Jersey’s horse racing industry, an indictment alleging criminal activity directly related to the racing industry is grounds for immediate license suspension. That is true whether the indictment is in New Jersey or another jurisdiction.

Horse racing has a perception problem

Gary West, the owner of Maximum Security, released a statement saying he had terminated Servis’s employment.

“Jason Servis, a trainer we have used for 5 years, was indicted on multiple charges regarding using an illegal substance in horses,” he said.

“This news is extremely disturbing and disappointing. Therefore, we will be moving all our horses from Jason Servis as soon as arrangements can be made with other trainers. Maximum Security will be sent to Bob Baffert.”

There’s a perception problem with this.

Did West say he had spoken to Servis? No, he distanced himself, essentially throwing Servis under the bus to maintain a distance from the conflict.

West had to know that industry insiders were grumbling about the sudden success of Servis and Navarro for the past three or four seasons.

The comments by West, reading between the lines, sound like a conviction of Servis.

Horse bettors had questions

Horse bettors long questioned how trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis win at high percentages, far above the industry norm.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York had similar questions that resulted in the indictments of Servis, Navarro, and others.

Also named in the federal indictment:

  • Several horse trainers
  • Veterinarians
  • Drug suppliers
  • Distributors

This is one finish line that may be hard to cross

Servis and Navarro have been utterly silent amid the accusations.  Nothing, not even through their lawyers.

There are reports that they will plead not guilty to the charges, but time, in the court of public opinion, is currency.

The outrage of the innocent should have been sounded already.

Even if they defeat charges, perhaps on grounds that wire-tapped calls implicating them were illegal, the industry won’t welcome them back. 

By not speaking immediately, Servis and Navarro will be hard to believe later.

Where does this situation lead?

We could be headed for an era of banned medications, including Lasix, which helps horses breathe better and perhaps run better than they are capable of.

For the sake of bettors, and the millions of people who love horse racing, the industry needs to get in front of these problems.

Right now, it is way behind.

Dave Bontempo

About

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.