Another veterinarian in the massive federal racehorse doping scandal that involved dozens of arrests in March 2020 recently pled guilty, joining one colleague on that front while another was convicted by a jury.
More than a dozen guilty plea deals have been reached overall, and Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural, who helped bankroll a private investigation that led to the federal probe, told NJ Online Gambling Wednesday that he believes all 31 of those accused may wind up being punished.
So does that mean the “war is over,” in terms of the dangerous doping of racehorses that leads to an uneven playing field for horsemen and bettors, and in some cases results in premature equine deaths?
Gural doubts that.
“I have been told that drug use at the tracks I don’t own still is widespread,” said Gural, a Manhattan real estate mogul who also owns upstate New York harness tracks Vernon Downs and Tioga Downs.
Why the apathy?
“I get the feeling that outside of Churchill Downs and [the New York Racing Association], a lot of the tracks just don’t care,” Gural commented. “They don’t want to spend all the money on legal fees investigating, and they figure it’s the state’s problem anyway.”
That’s in sharp contrast to Gural, who said that as soon as he took over the Meadowlands from the state a decade ago, he realized he had a chance to do something about the cheating. He banned a number of trainers and others in the industry who he considered to be cheaters, and he has won several legal cases filed by those who protested.
Gural soon came on board, being of a similar spirit. Millions of dollars in legal fees and several years later, 5 Stones had sufficient evidence to bring to federal authorities. The death of dozens of horses at Santa Anita Park in California in 2019 sparked national attention, and not long after, those authorities began making cases against dozens of horse racing industry leaders.
Veterinarian Louis Grasso’s guilty plea on May 11 to one count of “distributing misbranded drugs to improve racehorse performance” was just the latest plea as the saga moves forward.
The most notable remaining defendant still to be adjudicated is probably Jason Servis, a thoroughbred trainer whose trial date was just set for Jan. 9, 2023.
Servis and Jorge Navarro, now serving time after a guilty plea in the doping scandal, dominated the Monmouth Park winner’s circle for many years. Servis also trained Maximum Security, who was the first across the wire at the 2019 Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference.
But as a standardbred racetrack owner, Gural’s attention is more focused on Rene Allard, a trainer with whom he has feuded for many years and who is not welcome at any of Gural’s tracks. Allard has pled not guilty to all charges of racehorse doping.
A glimmer of hope?
As disappointed as Gural is about what he perceives as a lack of zeal to root out doping at many racetracks, he said he believes there could be good news down the road.
That’s because investigations continue in the doping scandal, Gural said, “and I expect more arrests. I still have 5 Stones on retainer.”
A second wave of indictments, Gural believes, could lead to corrupt horsemen changing their tune. He said he was in the courtroom at the sentencing of one defendant, who — with his wife on hand — unsuccessfully begged the judge not to send him to jail.
“It really was a reminder of how desperately people do not want to go to jail,” Gural said. “More arrests can make a big difference.”
As for whether horse racing bettors even pay attention to the scandal, Gural said, “The big bettors understand it, and they like what has happened. That’s why our handle is by far the largest.
“Bettors know that we are clean here at the Meadowlands, that we are not taking the easy way out,” Gural added.