For years, sharp horseplayers speculated that despite their horses passing drug tests, high-percentage trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro were doing something to give runners an edge at the races.
Then on Monday, part of bombshell federal indictments against the duo for use and concealment of performance-enhancing drugs revealed they were in on it together.
Multiple calls and texts between Servis and Navarro were intercepted during an investigation by federal agents, including instances of Servis recommending a substance to Navarro and warning his training peer of a racetrack official’s presence close to where drugs were stored.
In the wake of the indictments, racing researcher Chris Rossi further evidenced a relationship between Servis and Navarro, two trainers who featured stock from the claiming game up to the Grade 1 level.
According to Rossi’s data, Servis has claimed only two horses from Navarro, both on the same Sept. 30, 2012, card at Monmouth Park. Navarro made only one claim off Servis — the week prior, on Sept. 23, 2012, at Belmont Park.
That’s despite the two conditioners spending quite a bit of time on the same circuits. Nowadays, they winter in Florida and spend summers at New Jersey’s Monmouth Park.
Rossi tallied 1,154 Monmouth starters between the two in claiming company since 2013. Conditioners known for their claims, however, didn’t take a single horse off one another during that time.
Meanwhile, according to Rossi, horses first off the claim from Navarro have gone 63-for-377 (16.7%). Servis’ former claimers are 71-for-400 (17.7%) debuting for their new barns.
Both percentages pale in comparison to the rate at which Navarro and Servis typically send out winners. That level of success led the journalist and handicapping pioneer Andy Beyer to list Servis among his “miracle” trainers in a 2009 column, a few years before Navarro’s rise.
“They compile winning percentages that dwarf the records of horsemen enshrined in the Hall of Fame,” Beyer wrote at the time. “They acquire horses and transform them in ways that history's greatest trainers never dreamed of.”
And, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, in addition to putting horses at risk with PEDs that could leave them running beyond their limits, Servis and Navarro conspired in ways that deceived the betting public.
“The care and respect due to the animals competing, as well as the integrity of racing, are matters of deep concern to the people of this district and to this office,” U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said on Monday.
Federal investigators allege Navarro operated a “widespread scheme of covertly obtaining and administering various adulterated misbranded PEDs to racehorses under his control.” He’s connected to a lengthy list of blood-building and pain-relieving substances.
Navarro also allegedly has in common with Servis SGF-1000, which according to the feds is “a customized PED purportedly containing ‘growth factors’” that promote tissue repair and increase stamina.
In a March 5, 2019, call to Navarro, Servis told his peer of SGF-1000, “I’ve been using it on everything almost.” Navarro responded that he had more than a dozen of his own horses on the substance. The call didn’t go on much longer.
"Jay, we'll sit down and talk about this s---," Navarro said. "I don’t want to talk about this s--- on the phone, OK?"
Prior to that, on Feb. 18, 2019, Servis texted Navarro warning him “of the presence of a racing official in the barn area where Servis and Navarro stored and administered PEDs to their respective racehorses,” according to the indictment. The same day, investigators tapped into a call between Navarro and another party.
“He would've caught our asses f------ pumping and pumping and fuming every f------- horse (that) runs today,” Navarro said.
Servis and Navarro's charges carry five-year maximum prison sentences. They were named in two counts apiece. They're due in court March 23 when they can enter initial pleas.