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Vindication is defined as "the action of clearing someone of blame or suspicion."
After Bloodhorse headlined the word in its wrap-up of Maximum Security's $10 million win in the first-ever Saudi Cup in February we got another example of people believing something simply because somebody said it. They sheepishly put the word in quotes, as if to imply "we didn't say it. Jason Servis did."
It's right there, graf 12: "'This has got to be vindication,' Servis said, referring to the Kentucky Derby ruling, which placed Maximum Security 17th."
No, it doesn't. And then 27 indictments against trainers including Servis and his pal Jorge Navarro; veterinarians (is there a horsey Hippocratic Oath?); and horse drug makers came down in the Southern District of New York. It's a dark story with more than enough stink to be spread on a lot of people, with enough left to pave over the slop at Churchill Downs on that May Saturday.
Then again, this is Bloodhorse, the barn of the likes of nostalgia merchant and bandwagon driver Steve Haskin. Haskin, struggling to hold up the tarpaulin while straddling some sort of fence, was actually loud and clear that he hated the decision to disqualify 'Security from first to 17th in 2019's Kentucky Derby, a first for that now bloated spectacle.
"As someone who has been watching the Derby for 50 years and covering it on a national scale for 30 years, this could have been one of the great storylines in Derby history," Haskin Wallenda'd last May. "I understand the stewards do not care about such things, and perhaps they shouldn't. But what they should do is acknowledge that this was the Kentucky Derby, with its huge field and often becoming a bumper car race where far more egregious events have occurred with no action taken. With this decision they have turned the Derby, at least this year's, into a race like any other that will have a profound effect on future Derbys, with a likely influx of foul claims for any kind of infraction, whether minor or major."
A lot of people forget the pre-race analysis that Maximum Security was known as a green lane-changer on the track. His antics in that race nearly took about 15 horses into what would have been a titanic catastrophe. That would have been a different storyline.
Haskin's another who wants the story handed to him. "If anybody deserved to win the Derby as much as (Bill) Mott (trainer of Country House, who was declared the winner) it was (Maximum Security's owners) Gary and Mary West, who have been all class and staunch supporters of racing for 40 years." As for a race that is now a stampede, would he rather add another flaw, such as making the Derby an untouchable spectacle without flaw? It was a good call.
I've never subscribed to the notion that anyone "deserves" to win a championship of any kind. If they win it, then they deserve it. We always deserved it, but losing on a buzzer-beater gets that out of your system real fast.
I don't know any of these people in sports. The story of the Wests shows a ton of philanthropy, but should they have known better than to hire Servis as their trainer? There have been questions about Servis for a long time. And look at that 24 percent win rate in the lede. That's a red flag big enough to cover the infield. Maximum Security was named Champion 3-Year-Old for 2019, by the way.
What Are The Charges?
The indictment alleges that these 27 people conspired to dope horses at tracks in New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Florida, Kentucky and the United Arab Emirates, home to Meydan Race Course and the $12 million Dubai World Cup, run at the end of every March. The structure of trainers, vets and the drug producers is self-explanatory.
Side question regarding the Saudi Cup: Does Saudi Arabia think it can display a clean soul through sports? It's a huge part of the what the Saudi Cup is.
The tip of the iceberg is SGF-1000, a sheep collagen-derived substance that some trainers believe enhances performance.
In an all-you-need-to-know tarring of today's horse racing industry, Dr. Mary Scollay head of the industry-funded Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, said it analyzed SGF-1000 in 2014, and then pivoted to say that the substance has probably been changed by now.
Servis is charged with falsifying documents to show that Maximum Security was given "dex," a regulated and legal steroid and not SGF-1000. A test was taken before 'Security was to run in the Pegasus at Monmouth Park, a run-up to the Haskell Invitational. Kristian Rhein, a Belmont Park-based veterinarian, is charged with providing the substance and "engaged in efforts to secretly distribute and administer adulterated and misbranded [performance-enhancing drugs] and to counsel racehorse trainers and/or owners on the use of such substances."
William Sweeney, Jr., assistant director in charge of the New York office of the FBI, said the drugs were engineered to be undetectable in tests.
After 'Security's Pegasus test was drawn, Rhein was heard in a wiretap reassuring Servis: "They don't even have a test for it. There's no test for it in America."
For the record, 'Security won the Haskell in oppressive heat and has not lost since. He was transferred to trainer Bob Baffert after the indictments came down. SGF-1000 was purchased from Medivet Equine, headquartered somewhere in . . . Kentucky.
The scandal also touches the harness side of the game. As the New York Times reported: "The indictment, citing an intercepted phone call last year, quoted Nicholas Surick, a harness trainer charged in the case, as he discussed horses Navarro had 'killed and broke down' that Surick said he had made 'disappear.'"
As for Navarro, he's in deep. He is charged with active efforts to hide his doping from authorities and ship mislabeled drugs across state lines. As the taped conversations seem to confirm, it also appears possible Navarro at least indirectly took the life of a horse we've heard of, X Y Jet, which was reported to have died of a heart attack in January.
Sprinter X Y Jet finished 7-1-4-1 for owner and trainer Antonio Sano in his first season. After being transferred to Navarro's barn at the end of 2014, the scales noticeably tilted the other way, as in big numbers in the win column and triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures galore. X Y Jet is a perfect example of a horse propped up by pharmaceuticals. His claim to fame a win in the 2019 Dubai Golden Shaheen (Grade I), he came out of the 2016 version of that race with a knee chip, and was sidelined nearly a year.
In the announcement of his death, Navarro turned on the waterworks. "Beyond the racetracks, X Y Jet becomes part of my family, was like the older brother of my children and of course, that affection extended to all those who in one way or another related to this swift, moody, but noble racehorse." Hmm, wonder why he was moody? The Daily Racing Form reported that Navarro was charged with administering pain blockers to 'Jet several times in 2019, including in the time before an allowance race and the Shaheen.
Back to Servis, maybe we can now deduce his and the Wests' strange placing, or nonplacing of Maximum Security in races after the Derby. Don't know why he wasn't in the Preakness except maybe tighter testing in Maryland or it was heavy pouting. Many of us were saying put up or shut up, because he really did look like the best horse in the Derby.
But Belmont was spooked to reform at least somewhat way back in 2012 when Doug O'Neill's I'll Have Another came to Elmont shooting for a Triple Crown. But O'Neill's behavior caught up to him between the second and third jewels when he was suspended for drug violations. Belmont responded by setting up a detention barn to monitor the horses and keep them away from any skulduggery. Was that a problematic wrench for O'Neill's medical machinery? Maybe. He scratched I'll Have Another the day before the Derby, citing tendon soreness and swelling.
And why not November's Breeders' Cup, held in California, where irate politicians spooked the game into tightening up its testing? Servis avoided both venues and instead chose New Jersey's Monmouth and Aqueduct on Long island, both longtime haunts.
Naturally, the Wests are shocked, shocked! "This news is extremely disturbing and disappointing," they said the day of the indictments. In a later statement pledging the most thorough horse testing "known to man" of 'Security, Gary West said he was "stunned" to hear of Servis's indictment. Both comments are true. Now, did they know about the doping?
The Wests are forging ahead with their lawsuit to overturn the Derby DQ.
What Does All Of This Mean?
The fact these charges came out of a U.S. Attorney's investigation is critical, because as doom for horse racing is on the porch camera, it's now out of racing's hands. The industry of horse racing would never have caught these bums because it does not have the testing technology or the desire to develop the technology.
While these problems now involve a top horse running today, Servis and Navarro are cheating hacks, allegedly, and a bit lower on the training totem. If not always the engineering of a truly heinous scam scheme, the pervasive nature of drugs in racing goes to the top. Top trainers, top horses, involved vets.
There is legislation in Congress right now, the Horse Racing Integrity Act. Basically, it calls for a Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, described as non-profit and independent, to set national racing drug policies. (Howzabout no drugs in racing?) But Churchill Downs Inc. doesn't want it and CDI has long had its way with Sen. Mitch McConnell (Horseshit-Kentucky).
Super trainer Bob Baffert pushed for support of the bill in a Washington Post Op-Ed.
But what about Bob? His Justify "won" the 2018 Triple Crown(!) when he should have been disqualified from the Derby. Justify's post-Santa Anita Derby test was positive for a banned substance, disqualifying him from the points he needed to go to Kentucky. The California Horse Racing Board, laced with more conflicts of interest than a game of Cat's Cradle, dragged out its investigation for critical weeks, told Baffert in the shadow of the upcoming Derby his horse had failed, and completely dropped the matter that summer. The board violated its own protocols to abet a cover-up, plain and simple.
The tracks ran legit races this weekend, without fans in attendance. There was some speculation the game could gain new fans migrating from dark arenas across America. Fine, but how many fans will it lose if it doesn't hit rock bottom, admit its helplessness and solve this drug problem? A Servis perp walk won't do it.
At least the hell not for me.
Did The California Horse Racing Board Do Something Good?
In more brow-raising news, the CHRB just released its own report spurred by all of the horse deaths in California, primarily at Santa Anita.
"The 77-page report - nearly five times as long as the Los Angeles D.A.'s and with a fraction of the pictures - described a climate of 'cumbersome, disorganized, and often incoherent' recordkeeping, a pervasive sense of pressure to race horses, a lack of understanding among horsemen about 'basic anatomy,' and several violations of CHRB policy that will result in at least 10 complaints filed against trainers and veterinarians," the Daily Beast reports.
Recordkeeping will be very important. Pressure by tracks on trainers to run horses can also be a huge problem. If a track imposes severe pressure to run - through raised stall fees or outright banning of horses from the grounds - wouldn't you think that could increase pressure to drug the horses?
Tim Ritvo of the Stronach Group, the owners of Santa Anita, laid down the law three years ago. "Tim Ritvo, who oversaw increases in horsemen's participation and field sizes at TSG tracks in Maryland and Florida, repeatedly and openly expressed his intention to do the same at Santa Anita when he arrived in 2017," the report said. "Shortly after arriving in California and becoming chief operating officer at Santa Anita, Ritvo told the Los Angeles Times that 'We need to correct the guys who are here and not running and just using the place as a training track . . . We need to replace them."
CDI tried that some years ago at Arlington Park and Illinois horsemen revolted. Hawthorne Race Course kept their barns available throughout the stalemate.
P.S. On its way out of racing at Arlington, CDI has not yet reached agreement with the horsemen for the 2020 season, scheduled to start May 1.
* HEY, let's go for the trifecta!
Prominent trainers Kiaran McLaughlin and Gary Contessa are leaving training because of labor problems. Both are facing six-figure fines after paying employees on a weekly, instead of hourly, basis. It appears the weekly pay hid many of the overtime hours backstretch workers put in.
It's not there yet, but we could be in the age of "You Really Should Pay People."
* No, Superfecta!
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith and rider Irad Ortiz Jr. were both fined and suspended for overuse of the whip in races during the Saudi Cup meet. Stewards said Smith hit his horse 14 times, over the limit of 10.
I noticed and even said out loud that Smith was really hitting that filly, Midnight Bisou, in the stretch. They ran on to finish second. He was fined more than $200,000, or 60 percent of his purse share, and suspended for nine days, plus two more days for failing to weigh in after a previous race. Ortiz was also fined and suspended for eights days for a whip infraction.
It's not there yet, but we could be in the age of "You Really Shouldn't Whip That Horse So Much."
* Now, let's play "He Was Big Once in Cicero," just like Sneed.
War Emblem, winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2002 has died. He was 21.
But we remember him for his win in the Illinois Derby prep for that Kentucky Derby.
It hurts to even think about it, but it was run at old Sportsman's Park. Not really, because longtime knuckleheads the Bidwill family and auto racing icon Chip Ganassi had demolished and repurposed as Chicago Motor Speedway.
For War Emblem's race, they just threw dirt over the paved oval and ran. It's amazing the horses didn't snap like twigs.
Talking to some of the Hawthorne old-timers, they said the auto racing was so loud that in the immediate neighborhood and beyond, people and their pets had to leave town. They said you could hear the cars at Western Avenue and maybe further.
CDI and Arlington Park completely devalued the Illinois Derby, simply because it was later held at Hawthorne, by not including the venerable race in the competition for entries in the Kentucky Derby. When was the last time Arlington Park hosted a Derby winner in a prep?
This, fans, is how the corporation that wants to own all of the roses, conducts itself.
Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.
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