Back in January, X Y Jet, a million-dollar racehorse, was killed training in Florida. His trainer: Jorge Navarro. Yes, the same Jorge Navarro who was indicted by the U.S. Justice Department last week on multiple doping charges. So I thought a tidy juxtaposition was in order. Here is what Navarro said when announcing X Y’s death:

“With deep regret, I am sorry to notify you that X Y Jet died this morning as a result of a heart attack. X Y Jet was more than a horse on my trained list, it [not ‘he’] was the one that took us through a wonderful and exciting roller coaster of emotions. He always fought against adversity and despite the injuries that affected him during his career, he always brought out that kind of champion he was.

“Beyond the racetracks, XY Jet becomes [sic] 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, mood [sic], but noble racehorse.

“Since his arrival at my stable, I immediately felt that connection with him, which remained until today and will surely remain with me until the day of my departure. I owe X Y Jet so much, that I’m sure there are no words that can specify my thanks to his nobility and class. I do not say goodbye to a horse, I say goodbye to a friend that I will carry forever in my heart. Keep running fast to your next destination X Y Jet.”

Now, from the indictment:

“[JORGE] NAVARRO and others administered several adulterated and misbranded PEDs to XY Jet prior to both the February 13 race in Florida and the March 30 race in Dubai. On or about February 9, 2019, NAVARRO and MARCOS ZULUETA had a telephone conversation in which they discussed NAVARRO’S need for a particular customized analgesic PED, referred to as a ‘blocker.’ NAVARRO specified that the PED was for administration to XY Jet, and ZULUETA agreed to supply that PED via an overnight shipment.

“NAVARRO further attempted to source additional PEDs for XY Jet…including additional doses of a ‘blocker’ PED. On February 10, NAVARRO wrote to OAKES: ‘Do u have any of that new block that dr makes [?],’ and in subsequent calls between NAVARRO and OAKES, OAKES agreed to procure and deliver the ‘blocker’ PED to NAVARRO in advance of XY Jet’s February 13 race.

“On or about February 11, NAVARRO complained to ZULUETA about XY Jet’s performance in a pre-competition run…. NAVARRO and OAKES discussed a plan to secretly introduce a bottle of the ‘blocker’ into the stable where XY Jet was being held prior to the February 13 race. OAKES confirmed that he would smuggle that PED into the racetrack and meet NAVARRO once inside.

“On or about February 13, the day of the Florida race, NAVARRO instructed OAKES to visit XY Jet to administer the PED, and to lie to racing officials if necessary to access the racehorse: ‘Drive through. If anything, if they stop you. You are an owner and you come to Navarro’s barn.’

“On or about March 22, while in the UAE with XY Jet, NAVARRO personally administered various adulterated and misbranded PEDs to XY Jet, including a substance NAVARRO referred to as ‘monkey.’ During an April 3 call between NAVARRO and MARCOS ZULUETA, the two discussed, among other things, NAVARRO’s administration of PEDs to XY Jet in the weeks leading up to, and on the day of, the race in Dubai, and NAVARRO explained: ‘I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.’

“Following XY Jet’s victory in Dubai, SETH FISHMAN [a veterinarian who was also indicted] congratulated NAVARRO on the win via text message, and NAVARRO replied, in part and among other things, ‘Thank u boss u are a big part of it.'”

To recap:

Navarro: “He always fought against adversity and despite the injuries that affected him during his career, he always brought out that kind of champion he was.”

FBI: “NAVARRO and OAKES discussed a plan to secretly introduce a bottle of the ‘blocker’ into the stable where XY Jet was being held prior to the February 13 race.”

Navarro: “Beyond the racetracks, XY Jet becomes [sic] part of my family, was like the older brother of my children.”

FBI: “NAVARRO instructed OAKES to visit XY Jet to administer the PED, and to lie to racing officials if necessary to access the racehorse.”

Navarro: “[I] immediately felt that connection with him, which remained until today and will surely remain with me until the day of my departure.”

FBI: “NAVARRO personally administered various adulterated and misbranded PEDs to XY Jet, including a substance NAVARRO referred to as ‘monkey.'”

Navarro: “I do not say goodbye to a horse, I say goodbye to a friend that I will carry forever in my heart. Keep running fast to your next destination X Y Jet.”

FBI: “‘I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.'”

It runs deeper than just the words he spewed and the acts he committed; Jorge Navarro himself – at his very core – is an obscenity.

Harness trainer Rene Allard (pictured below), one of the most successful in the land, is the latest to be indicted by the Justice Department. The following transcript, published in the Thoroughbred Daily News (TDN), is from an intercepted call between two other defendants, Ross Cohen, pusher, and Louis Grasso, veterinarian. In it, the pair discuss the deaths of Allard-trained horses:

Cohen: “What’s going on with the Allard death camp?”

Grasso: “(laughter) Well I didn’t get anymore emergency calls yesterday so I am assuming…” [Yes, a veterinarian laughs at the mention of a horse “death camp.”]

Cohen: “Assuming the number stopped at 7?”

Grasso: “Well yeah.”

Cohen: “How many died?”

Grasso: “Three.”

Cohen: “Jeez. What were you thinking?”

Grasso: “Three or two maybe.”

Grasso: “One of them just died on the table they just cut him open and poof it died.” [“It,” not he, died – again, a veterinarian.]

Cohen: “Holy fuck did they do an autopsy?”

Grasso: “Their heart rate was like triple they were breathing real heavy their membranes were going fucking purple.” [Once again, a veterinarian.]

Within racing ranks, there have been three types of reactions to these charges: One, disbelief (“I’m shocked!”). Two, retreat, silence. Three, relief, for according to these folks (including the TDN writer, Bill Finley), this is exactly what Racing needed – a good, swift kick in the butt, a cleansing of the “bad apples.” Liars and cowards, all. But it’s far worse: Anyone in racing who suspected (suspects) that horrible people were (are) doing horrible things to their horses and said (say) or did (do) nothing, is not only craven but every bit as culpable as the monsters themselves.

Ignore everything you read and hear from the apologists. This is bad. Very bad. For an industry that has been under relentless siege for over a year now, the federal indictments that came down yesterday against some 27 people in, or associated with, American horseracing – including seven veterinarians (who merit an especial contempt) and renowned trainers Jason Servis (he of short-lived Derby winner Maximum Security) and Jorge Navarro (killer of X Y Jet) – couldn’t have come at a worse time. But it’s important not to get too far into the weeds on this.

As I wrote in the wake of PETA’s undercover investigation of another famous trainer’s (Steve Asmussen) barn in 2013, it’s more about the human-horse relationship than the case particulars. On this relationship, horseracing is more amoral than immoral, for traditional rules of morality simply do not apply. (Defrauding bettors is a topic best discussed elsewhere – i.e., I don’t care.) Racehorses are pieces of property, assets, things to be made, used, and discarded; you can no more act immorally toward your racehorse than you can your house or car. Accordingly, virtually anything goes. And that is the story here. And make no mistake, Navarro, Servis, and the rest, like Asmussen and Blasi before them, are horseracing, and anyone who says different is either lying, ignorant, or self-deluded.

Anyway, here are some of the indictments’ “highlights.”

“[Dealer Sarah] Izhaki represented that ‘The Devil’ was ‘[s]omething very new, you put it in the horse, you can use coke: it will come back negative.’

“On or about October 2, 2019, [veterinarian Louis] Grasso counseled [trainer Thomas] Guido on the proper administration of misbranded and adulterated PEDs, and specifically discussed the death of a horse that Guido was training and stated had been doped with a PED…noting, ‘it happens,’ that the deceased horse’s trainer had ‘probably over juiced him,’ and that the suspected cause of the horse’s death was not unusual: ‘I’ve seen that happen 20 times.’

“On or about October 17, 2019, Grasso reiterated to [assistant trainer Conor] Flynn his willingness to provide prescriptions without verifying medical necessity, advising…that his fee was ‘$100 per script,’ regardless of the prescription: ‘I don’t give the fuck what it is.’

“On or about October 23, 2019…Flynn indicated that he was willing to inject misbranded and adulterated PEDs of unknown composition into his racehorses because he was ‘a fucking desperado….’

“On or about January 2, 2016, [dealer Scott] Robinson forwarded the following customer complaint to [dealer Scott] Mangini: ‘I ordered some [PED-1]…starting bout 8 hours after I give the injection and for about 36 hours afterwards both my horses act like they are heavily sedated, can barely walk. Could I have a bad bottle of medicine, I’m afraid to give it anymore since this has happened three times.’ Commenting on this complaint, Robinson wrote, ‘here is another one.’

“On a February 1, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Nicholas] Surick and [collaborator] Michael Tannuzzo discussing [trainer Jorge] Navarro, Surick stated: ‘You know how many fucking horses he fucking killed and broke down that I made disappear. … You know how much trouble he could get in…if they found out?’

“During an April 3, 2019, call between Navarro and [trainer Marcos] Zulueta, the two discussed, among other things, Navarro’s administration of PEDs to XY Jet in the weeks leading up to, and on the day of, the race in Dubai, and Navarro explained: ‘I gave it to him through 50 injections. I gave it to him through the mouth.’

“Following XY Jet’s victory in Dubai, [veterinarian] Seth Fishman congratulated Navarro on the win via text message, and Navarro replied, ‘Thank u boss u are a big part of it.’

“On or about May 29, 2019, Navarro held a conference call with the operators of a racing stable in California, for whom Navarro is a trainer, during which they discussed a series of poor performances by “Nanoosh,” a racehorse trained by Navarro. During the call, one of the operators questioned whether Navarro was ‘giving them all the shit,’ later asking, ‘Is this horse jacked out? Is he on fucking pills or what or are we just fucking -,’ to which Navarro responded, ‘Everything…he gets everything.’

“On a March 5, 2019, intercepted call between [trainer Jason] Servis and Navarro, Servis recommended ‘SGF’ to Navarro, stating, ‘I’ve been using it on everything almost.’ Navarro stated…that he ‘got more than 12 horses on’ SGF-1000….’

“[D]uring an intercepted call between Navarro and Tannuzzo, Navarro explained, in part, that he otherwise would have been caught doping: ‘[The racing official] would’ve caught our asses fucking pumping and pumping and fuming every fucking horse [that] runs today.’

The industry quote of the week comes from a recent BloodHorse article by longtime racing writer/apologist Jay Hovdey. The piece began by acknowledging what we at HW have long known (and exposed): not all kills are treated equally. Hovdey:

“I have no idea why, in the scheme of things, those emotionally invested in Thoroughbred racing would mourn the death of one horse to an exponentially greater extent than any other. That’s just the way it is, the way it’s always been.”

Indeed. A $5,000 claimer breaks down at Parx, no one cares. Shoot him up, scrape him off the dirt, stuff him in a van, dump him in a pit, and wait for the “disposal service” to haul him away. A star, or budding star as was the case with Taraz, the subject of Hovdey’s column, and it’s an outpouring of grief – the “black crepe trail,” as Hovdey calls it – “prayers and condolences to the connections,” and excrement like this from Garrett O’Rourke, GM of Juddmonte Farms, Taraz’ owner:

“[W]e felt like she was something special. You live to have a chance to be in the presence of such talent. For all of us here, it hurts to have that taken away.”

But the aforementioned quote, the golden moment as it were, came in a larger discussion on fatal injuries and the fragile physiques that make them so common. Hovdey, again:

“A hard fact remains – the sport cannot save its injured athletes at a rate that will ever satisfy the general public.”

No it cannot, Mr. Hovdey. No it cannot. And with each passing day, the pressure mounts and a groundswell builds. Your beloved industry is living on borrowed time.

You know it’s bad when even your staunchest supporters are calling you out. John Cherwa is, of course, an unabashed racing apologist and, not unrelated, the paper he writes for, the Los Angeles Times, is a decidedly biased source of information on all things racing. (I have twice submitted editorials offering the activists’ perspective, to no avail; I and others have repeatedly reached out to Times staff in an effort to correct the record and/or lodge objections to Cherwa’s reporting, but again, nothing.) So imagine my surprise when Mr. Cherwa’s Tuesday column began thus:

“We’ve often said that statistics can be used to prove whatever point you are trying to make. For example, Santa Anita likes to use one about the number of horses that have been on the track, racing and training, to prove that the horse fatality rate is much lower than what people think. It’s in the tens of thousands of horses for this meeting. While it is true horses have been on the track, as they are several days a week, if only for a jog, it’s a made-up figure. The track just extrapolates the number of horses it has and comes up with an average. It would be shredded by an auditor. When you’re going to give a number is [sic] the thousands or even millions of a percent, you better be 100% correct. It’s why I don’t use that figure.”

And what exactly are the numbers Santa Anita is reporting? On their “Horse Care & Safety” page, under “Statistics,” this: “Home to 2,000 horses over ten months of the year, Santa Anita Park is one of the largest equine training facilities in the world. Horses raced or trained at Santa Anita Park over 420,000 times in 2019 with a 99.991% safety rate.” But it gets worse: “407,578 HORSES HAVE RACED, WORKED, OR GALLOPED THE PAST YEAR AT SANTA ANITA PARK.” Factually incorrect: There aren’t even 400,000 active racehorses in the entire country – not even close.

More “statistics,” of course, follow – a barrage of numbers meant to distract and deceive. Overwhelmed, the average person (and much of the media) will likely retain but one: “99.991%” – or, exactly as intended. (In addition, you have to scroll through all the “good news” to get to the bad – the “incidents,” as they call them. How many give up long before then?) But even if that “safety rate” were true, what would it matter? Here’s what we do know with absolute certainty: (at least) 8 horses have died at Santa Anita just since the first of the year; 43 dead in 2019, 48 in 2018, 46 in 2017; since 2007, over 600 dead racehorses at Santa Anita. Each of those lives had inherent value; to reduce their unequivocally wanton deaths to a percentage or ratio (see also The Jockey Club’s celebrated “Equine Injury Database”) is as callous as it is sad.

Then there’s this: Two separate studies have shown that the majority of spent American racehorses are brutally and violently bled-out and butchered at “career’s” end. In fact, the industry itself has even admitted as much: Last fall, Alex Waldrop, head of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, told USA Today that 7,500 Thoroughbreds are going to slaughter annually. Let me repeat, one of the most powerful people in racing acknowledges that multiple thousands – it’s actually more in the 10,000-12,000 range – of his industry’s erstwhile “athletes” land in equine hell every year. This fact alone not only guts their vaunted “safety rate,” but renders their declarations of the “primacy of equine welfare” positively obscene.

But Cherwa’s generous spirit had not quite run its course. Reinforcing the unassailable truth that this is a failing industry, Cherwa went on to compare the numbers from this year’s President’s Day at Santa Anita to the one in 2000:

attendance, 2000: 20,450 (and, he notes, it was raining that day)
attendance, 2020: 7,003

That’s a 66% decrease.

handle, 2000: $10,569,081
handle, 2020: $6,213,445

That’s a 41% decrease.

number of races, 2000: 10
number of races, 2020: 8

That’s a 20% decrease.

number of starters, 2000: 63
number of starters, 2020: 48

That’s a 24% decrease.

With demand for the racing product in steady decline, and the cruelty and killing at long last laid bare for the whole world to see, can the end, then, be far off?