Maximum Security Drug Allegations: With this horse, nothing is ever what it appears. For 22 minutes he was the Kentucky Derby champion, and then he wasn’t. On Monday, nine days after he won the richest race in history, the $20 million Saudi Cup, drug allegations against his trainer, Jason Servis, raised doubts about all the horse’s accomplishments. What part did chemistry play in them, and how can we know?
Maximum uncertainty haunts this talented but star-crossed colt, and accusations of minimal integrity against Servis and others have rocked racing. No one was jolted as badly as the man who bred and co-owns Maximum Security, Gary West.
“Yesterday, Jason Servis, a trainer we have used for five years, was indicted on multiple charges regarding using an illegal substance in horses,” West said in a statement. “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.
Like West, Ron Lombardi was stunned after enjoying a successful 13-year partnership with Servis. He had 15 horses for Lombardi, whose nom de course is Mr. Amore Stable. He will send his horses to other trainers, as will Michael Dubb, another prominent owner who employed Servis.
“It’s pretty crazy and unthinkable,” Lombardi told bloodhorse.com. “My reaction is total shock. I found it hard to believe when I heard about it. Especially the magnitude of it, with the re-labeling (of performance-enhancing drugs) and other stuff. That was what was crazy … I’m thinking Jason was very naïve about the implications of all this.”
The reckoning came Monday morning, when Servis was arrested and indicted. There were more repercussions Tuesday, when New York suspended his license and those of trainer Jorge Navarro and nine of the 27 defendants in the federal case. Servis and Navarro each face two counts of “misbranding conspiracy,” and each carries a maximum penalty of five years’ imprisonment, prosecutors told drf.com.
No matter how it all shakes out, it’s hard to imagine Servis or Navarro ever being allowed to set foot on the backstretch again.
“The allegations are troubling and go to the heart of horse racing integrity,” the New York State Gaming Commission said in a statement. “We trust that any proven allegation will be dealt with severely.”
There was plenty of other news the day after Servis and Navarro were implicated as part of “a widespread, corrupt scheme by racehorse trainers, veterinarians and others to manufacture, receive and distribute adulterated and misbranded PEDS to racehorses under scheme participants’ control.”
Maximum Security was the first winner disqualified for interference in the 145-year history of the Derby. Now there’s talk he could be the first Eclipse Award winner to have the trophy taken away. He was voted the 3-year-old champion in a landslide six weeks before it all came crashing down on Servis. More negative history in the making?
And what about the $10 million Maximum Security earned in the Saudi Cup for West and Ireland’s Coolmore group? The Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia mandated that the race be run without drugs, not even the commonly used Lasix and bute. If it were proved that Maximum Security had an undetectable PED in his system, perhaps the winner’s share, including Servis’ $1 million cut, would be forfeited.
Surprisingly, there was some good news for racing on Tuesday. It came with an ugly asterisk, though, because it emerged from an inquest on the 23 fatal breakdowns during last year’s winter-spring meeting at Santa Anita. A 77-page report by the California Horse Racing Board concluded that 21 deaths were tied to pre-existing conditions and none to illegal medications. Nineteen were caused by injuries to the fetlock, the area analogous to the ankle in humans.
Back to the federal conspiracy case, in which the 27 defendants reportedly will appear in court March 23 to make their initial pleas. There will be plea bargains, leading to former friends and associates testifying against each other to try to get better deals.
The ugly fallout has only just begun.
Ed McNamara is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about thoroughbred racing for 35 years. He has handicapped races for ESPN.com, Newsday and The Record of New Jersey. He is the author of “Cajun Racing: From the Bush Tracks to the Triple Crown” and co-author of “The Most Glorious Crown,” a chronicle of the first 12 Triple Crown champions.