When Dr. Seth Fishman was convicted in February on two counts of “drug adulteration and misbranding, with intent to defraud and mislead” in the two-year-old horse racing doping scandal, Meadowlands Racetrack owner Jeff Gural expressed only partial relief. The other shoe to drop, Gural said, would be Louis Grasso, a veterinarian who had been charged with similar offenses.
On Wednesday, the shoe indeed dropped: Grasso pled guilty to a single count of distributing misbranded drugs to improve racehorse performance. Grasso is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 6.
“Grasso and [trainer Richard] Banca represent the corruption and greed of those in the racehorse industry looking to win at any cost,” U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. Banca, who also recently pleaded guilty, is scheduled to be sentenced on the same day.
“In peddling illegal drugs and selling prescriptions to corrupt trainers,” Williams’ statement continued, “Grasso abdicated his responsibilities as a medical professional to ensure the safety and health of the racehorses he ‘treated.’
“By injecting horses with unnecessary and, at times, unknown drugs, Grasso risked the lives and welfare of the animals under his care, all in service of helping corrupt racehorse trainers like Banca line their pockets through fraud.”
Grasso was found to have created, distributed, and administered custom-made performance-enhancing drugs that helped trainers collect more than $47 million in wrongful purse winnings over several years.
Gural, along with The Jockey Club, for four years bankrolled a private investigation that led to the federal government’s investigation into the national horse doping scandal. He also has banned numerous trainers he suspected of cheating, with courts upholding his right to do so.
Banca, banned from the Meadowlands Racetrack five years ago, was one of Yonkers Raceway’s leading trainers.
Heard on the wire
Some of the most sensational excerpts from among the dozens of indictments issued by the federal government in March 2020 featured Grasso.
Grasso — who was a licensed veterinarian in New Jersey and New York — was alleged to have used vials of cobra venom as pain blockers for horses, with investigators intercepting a call between the veterinarian and a trainer, Thomas Guido, talking about the recent death of a horse.
“Guido told Grasso about a horse who had died that was being doped with a drug similar to a blood builder,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said of an October 2019 wiretapped conversation. “Grasso was not surprised. He replied, ‘It happens. He probably over-juiced him. I’ve seen that happen 20 times.’”
In the indictment of Grasso, he was described as a key figure in the harness racing world in the manufacture and distribution of misbranded PEDs that were administered to horses. The government also charged that Grasso delivered units of the PEDs to horsemen.
The central products were “epogen” and “red acid” — the latter said to be particularly effective in reducing joint inflammation.
Other high-profile convictions have been made in the past year, including that of seven-time leading Monmouth Park trainer Jorge Navarro, who in December was sentenced to five years in prison.