horse doping syringe

‘Keystone’ of massive racehorse doping scheme nears sentencing

In a 19-page letter to a U.S. District Court judge filed on Friday, federal prosecutors asked that disgraced former Monmouth Park trainer Jorge Navarro be sentenced to the full recommended five-year sentence from a plea bargain agreement over the summer.

Navarro, who was the leading winner among trainers at the Oceanport thoroughbred racing track for seven straight years from 2013-19, pleaded guilty to charges of participating in an illegal horse-doping scheme.

Sentencing by Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil of the Southern District of New York is scheduled for the end of this week, and the defense previously filed character testimony from family and friends of Navarro seeking some sort of leniency.

“Jorge recognizes that his conduct in this case calls into question his care for his horses, but those that know him as a horseman and trainer recognize his genuine love and devotion to his horses,” according to the defense’s filing. “At this juncture, having been absent from horse racing for almost two years, Jorge realizes the errors of his ways and is contrite, remorseful, and wishes he could roll back the hands of time.”

But the prosecution sharply rebuked such claims in its own filing, underscoring Navarro’s role in a scheme that has led to dozens of arrests while casting an ugly light on one of the world’s longest-running sports: “Standing as the keystone for this structure of abuse, corruption, and duplicity was Jorge Navarro, a trainer who treated his animals as expendable commodities in the service of his ‘sport.’”

Navarro has agreed, as part of his plea deal, to surrender $25.9 million in “ill-gotten purse winnings” from the success between 2016 and March 2020 — when indictments were announced — of horses that were given various performance-enhancing drugs.

The extent of horse doping is laid bare

“Jorge Navarro’s case reflects failings, greed, and corruption at virtually every level of the world of professional horse racing,” the prosecutors wrote. “For money and fame, corrupt trainers went to increasing extremes to dope horses under their care.

“Unscrupulous owners, who stood to profit directly, encouraged and pressured trainers to win at any cost. Veterinarians sworn to the care and protection of their patients routinely violated their oaths in service of corrupt trainers and to line their own pockets.

“Assistants and grooms all witnessed animal abuse in the service of greed, but did little to stop such conduct, and engaged in myriad ways to support notoriously corrupt trainers.

“Structures designed for the protection of the horses abused in this case failed repeatedly; fixtures of the industry — owners, veterinarians, and trainers — flouted rules and disregarded their animals’ health while hypocritically incanting a love for the horses under their control and ostensible protection.

“Throughout Navarro’s years-long conspiracy, Navarro was the critical component in a network of fraud — the individual who amplified the corruption of horse owners and encouraged the corruption of his underlings.”

Why the full five years for Navarro?

“Racehorse trainers, who are entrusted with the care and custody of racehorses, have unfettered access to these animals, and by extension are entrusted to ensure those horses’ care and health,” prosecutors wrote.

“Like veterinarians, trainers are afforded a certain latitude under the assumption that they are acting in good faith as competitors and as custodians of racehorses. Navarro exploited that good faith. He, like many actors in the racehorse industry had grown indifferent to, and dismissive of, the notion of obtaining illegal drugs to dope racehorses for profit.

“Racehorse trainers, in particular, assume that even if caught doping, they will have the means and wherewithal to obfuscate, litigate, and intimidate others into overlooking or justifying a violation, and thus continue their doping practices unencumbered.”

The extent of Navarro’s criminal actions also warrants the five-year sentence, prosecutors argued.

“It is not the case that Navarro’s crime was the result of a single lapse in judgment, confined in time and scope. To the contrary, Navarro engaged in repeated and persistent efforts to cheat over the course of years, cycling through various sources of supply, and pursuing aggressively new means to illegally dope horses.

“Yet Navarro never acknowledged the seriousness of his crimes. Navarro’s flippancy towards his dangerous and illegal conduct is exemplified by calls, text messages, and other evidence demonstrating that the defendant considered his prolific doping a badge of honor.”

Prosecutors added that Navarro — whose scheme was apparent enough to those in the racing industry that he was dubbed the “Juice Man” due to his suspected doping of horses — “kept a pair of customized shoes in his barn with the words “#JUICE MAN” emblazoned across the front.”

Letters of support

A number of the letters written to the court on Navarro’s behalf referenced X Y Jet, a Navarro horse who won the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen in 2019 after having finished second in the same race in  two prior attempts.

The sentencing letter detailed that X Y Jet had knee surgery three times as of early 2019, when Navarro elected to use an extensive number of drugs on the horse to allow him to keep racing.

X Y Jet died of a reported heart attack in January 2020 at the age of 8.

“That horse loved Jorge; I mean I never seen anything like it,” wrote Cindy Harries, Navarro’s mother-in-law. “That horse was mean with everyone and not easy to deal with. That horse was such a diva.

“Jorge would just stand there and X Y Jet would pin his ears flat against his head and come at Jorge who never twitched, and he would just stop and let Jorge pet him and kiss him on the nose. When X Y Jet died walking in the shed row after a routine gallop, a part of Jorge died too.”

What lies ahead for Navarro?

Navarro is a native of Panama who moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 13 years old, according to his defense attorneys.

“In addition to a potential lengthy prison sentence, Jorge Navarro faces permanent separation from his family and an end to life as he has known it in the United States, despite the fact that he has been lawfully residing here for the last 35 years,” Navarro’s attorneys wrote.

“Jorge is facing an almost certain deportation to a country where he has almost no familial, social or economic ties.”

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