'Animal Abuse In The Service Of Greed': Prosecutors Reveal More About Navarro's Doping Program, Boastful Text Messages - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘Animal Abuse In The Service Of Greed’: Prosecutors Reveal More About Navarro’s Doping Program, Boastful Text Messages

The federal government has submitted its sentencing letter for former trainer Jorge Navarro, and let's just say it's a juicy one.

“Jorge Navarro's case reflects failings, greed, and corruption at virtually every level of the world of professional horse racing,” the document, filed Dec. 10, began. “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 pockdets. 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. 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 is due to be sentenced Dec. 17 after entering a guilty plea to one count of drug and adulteration misbranding conspiracy. He was charged with two counts in a November 2020 superseding indictment. Last week, his defense team filed its recommendations to U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil, including 100 pages of character testimony from family, friends, former employees, and former owners, many of whom claimed Navarro cared deeply for his horses.

The prosecution takes issue with that characterization, laying out new details about Navarro's doping program and his attitude about his ongoing use of medications he seemed to know were illegal.

Friday's sentencing documents say that Navarro's program, which stretched back to at least 2016, included blood builders allegedly made by co-defendants Gregory Skelton and Dr. Seth Fishman, vasodilators, baking soda drenches, bleeder pills from Fishman, SGF-1000, “an imported, misbranded bronchodilator” and other substances.

Navarro was also on the lookout for new substances, the filing reveals, making inquiries about a new, pink-colored pain medication as well as “an experimental topical cream on a horse that was anticipated to have the same effects of a baking soda drench.”

Horses subjected to the program included X Y Jet, War Story, Shancelot, Sharp Azteca, and Nanoosh, according to the documents.

Prosecutors focused particularly on the medications given to X Y Jet, which were detailed somewhat in the federal indictments. Friday's document provided a few more details on what the horse experienced in early 2019.

A few days before a Feb. 13, 2019, allowance optional claiming race at Gulfstream Park, Navarro contacted co-defendant Marco Zulueta and said, 'I have a problem and you need to get me out of it,” asking for a bottle of a pain blocker to use on X Y Jet because the other 20 bottles he had ordered had not arrived. Zulueta promised to overnight the drug so it would be available to Navarro in time for the horse's race. Navarro then allegedly called fellow trainer and co-defendant Christopher Oakes, saying the horse had tied up for the first time that day. The pair discussed administering a baking soda “drench” to the horse immediately and another on race day. Zulueta tried to convince Navarro not to race the horse after his tying-up incident, but Navarro dismissed his concerns, saying he had treated the horse right away.

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The prosecution's account continued:

“The next day, on February 12, 2019, the day before the race, Navarro reached out to yet another individual and solicited items that could be used to drench X Y Jet: 'I need the tube, the pump and the bucket.' When Navarro was asked if someone else would be 'tubing' the horse, Navarro responded: 'Yes. No, you cannot — cannot tube him because you will go to jail, man. My friend is going to tube him. My friend is going to prepare a milk shake for him,' later adding, 'This is between you and I.' On a separate call with a representative of one of X Y Jet's owners, Navarro confirmed that he planned to milkshake the horse, and when asked whether the horse would then test positive, Navarro responded, 'Don't worry about it. I use something that covers the baking soda, the bicarb.'”

On race day, in correspondence with Zulueta, Navarro said he wanted to learn how to “tube” horses because “I would tube all my horses.” Zulueta warned Navarro that “You have to be [expletive] careful. I tried — I tried to do that and I almost killed the horse — the horse, man. It went to the lungs.” Navarro responded simply, “Yes.”

X Y Jet won his race that day, and in his next start won the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, which had a US$2.5 million purse. For that race, Navarro said he did not tube the horse, but gave him “50 injections” which were “through the mouth” to avoid detection — apparently a reference to what prosecutors say was Navarro's strategy of giving certain drugs orally if he had reason to suspect a racing official may detect a needle mark on a horse's neck.

X Y Jet, who had had three knee surgeries by the time of the allowance race in question, suffered a sudden death following a workout in Florida in January 2020, two months before Navarro's arrest. The horse's connections ordered a necropsy, not the state's Department of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, so the report has not previously been subject to public records request. Friday's documents revealed the “necropsy could not determine a cause for the heart attack; notably, Navarro's communications in the first quarter of 2019 indicated that, even one year prior, X Y Jet … was struggling, but was then medicated so he could race competitively.”

It is not uncommon for necropsy reports in the cases of “sudden” or “apparent cardiac” deaths to be inconclusive as to the horse's cause of death, particularly in absence of any physical abnormalities in the heart or other organs.

The document also references an anonymous individual who adopted a former Navarro trainee and said that after leaving the trainer's barn the horse was “disfigured and unable not only to race competitively, but to do very much at all” and that it “suffers from recurrent and painful physical problems.” In the horse's last race with Navarro in September 2019 the unidentified horse ended the race with a serious injury that required him to be vanned off.

Although he was constantly on the lookout for new substances and techniques to get a performance edge, the documents state, Navarro apparently spent some time worrying about whether his communications might be monitored, urging contacts to be careful in their discussions of the medications, and discussing steps he took — like having products shipped to people other than himself — to make it harder for regulators to catch him.

At the same time though, Navarro appeared to have no qualms about bragging about his activities to close friends. A search of his barn revealed a pair of customized shoes with the phrase #Juice Man across the toes.

In 2017, Navarro and owner Randal Gindi were fined $5,000 by Monmouth Park stewards for a video captured of the pair cheering on a horse trained by Navarro's brother, Marcial Navarro winning a race at Gulfstream Park.

“Adios, amigos. Adios, amigos,” Gindi was heard saying in the video. “The juice man!”

Navarro responded: “Is that a Navarro? Is that a Navarro? Is that a Navarro at 2-1? That's the way we do it.”

“That's the juice. That's the vegetable juice,” replied Gindi.

“We f – – k everyone,” said Navarro.

“We f – – k everyone, and I line my pockets with the bookie with another twenty thousand,” said Gindi. “Oh, yeah! Life is great.”

At the time, Navarro complained to the Paulick Report that the statements overheard in the video were a type of strange congratulation.

“Everyone wants to pick on Navarro when I win a race,” Jorge Navarro told the Paulick Report at the time. “They call me the 'juice man,' even when my kids are around. My son is 10, my daughter is 7. How many fingers do you have to count the number of times I hear that stuff? But I'm going to keep winning races.”

Navarro himself texted the following image to Zulueta in July 2018, apparently partly in reference to a misbranded substance the two referred to simply as “monkey.”

On January 26, 2019, the day two Navarro horses ran at Gulfstream and Tampa Bay Downs, an unnamed Navarro associate sent the trainer a gif depicting a syringe's plunger pulling back and loading the syringe with dollar bills.

It also seems clear that prosecutors believe Navarro was well aware of the risks associated with the adulterated and misbranded substances he was using – some of which were injectables so far removed from a Food and Drug Administration-approved manufacturing facility that they were simply in plain plastic bottles with instructions written on them in permanent marker.

In one case, Navarro was overheard on wire taps referring to a pain medicine Navarro had been offered that was so powerful “the guy [offering Navarro the drug] says he has killed about four horses already … he is saying the horses can't take it, and die.”

In another conversation, Navarro compared notes with Zulueta on the physical side effects to one intravenous performance enhancer, asking whether the horses “start sweating, get warm.” Zulueta relayed his horses were soaked wet with sweat after receiving injections, to which Navarro asked whether the drug was working.

In reference to his administration of steroids to horses, Navarro declared he is “a man who destroys” and who “is racing against the best horses in the United States.”

Prosecutors are requesting the maximum prison sentence outlined in an agreement with Navarro's attorneys at the time of his plea change – five years in federal prison – and are also requesting a three-year supervised release condition that would require him to relinquish his racing license for that period of time.

Navarro's attorneys said in their filing last week that it's very likely the Panama native will be deported at the conclusion of his sentence.

Additionally, Navarro has already agreed to forfeit a total of $70,000, which represents the value of drugs he allegedly obtained and gave to racehorses. He has also agreed to pay restitution of $25,860,514 – representative of the amount of purse earnings he got during the illegal doping conspiracy. For the first time, Friday's documents revealed this restitution would be paid to “those entities from whom purse winnings were obtained through the immediate effect of Navarro's fraud.” A list of those entities and a schedule for payment was filed under seal.

Navarro's sentence will be determined on Dec. 17. The judge is not bound by the agreements between the prosecution and defense, and will take both sides' reports under advisement.

Read the full document filed by the prosecution here.

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