Racehorse Trainer Jorge Navarro Faces Five-Year Prison Term After Global Doping Scheme Guilty Plea

  • Navarro admitted to the distribution of non-FDA approved “misbranded or adulterated drugs” 
  • He has agreed to pay $25.9m in restitution and could face five years in prison under federal law
  • Navarro supposedly doped his horse X Y Jet, winner of the Dubai Golden Shaheen in 2019
  • Veterinarian Rhein also confessed to doping horses, including the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner
  • Trainer Bob Baffert has received a ban for doping this year’s Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit
A needle with horse in background
Racehorse trainer Jorge Navarro could face five years in prison after confessing to doping horses in a US federal case. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Navarro confesses to his involvement

Prominent thoroughbred horse trainer Jorge Navarro could face five years in prison after confessing to his involvement in a doping scheme. According to a statement on the Department of Justice (DOJ) website, Navarro pleaded guilty to the charges on Wednesday.

Along with veterinarian Kristian Rhein, the trainer confessed to involvement in the distribution of non-FDA approved “misbranded or adulterated drugs” with the intention to “defraud and mislead.”

Navarro’s horses have won major races across the world, earning the trainer career winnings of around $34.9m. Among the horses that he supposedly doped was X Y Jet, who died of an apparent heart attack in January 2020. The successful racehorse famously won the 2019 Golden Shaheen race in Dubai, among a number of other high-profile events.

reckless fraudster whose veneer of success relied on the systematic abuse of animals”

Manhattan US Attorney Audrey Strauss described Navarro as a “reckless fraudster whose veneer of success relied on the systematic abuse of animals under his control.” The trainer has agreed to pay $25.9m in restitution, and could also face five years in prison under federal law. He will receive his official sentencing on December 17 this year.

A closer look at the case

According to the DOJ statement, the charges against Navarro have arisen from an investigation into widespread doping schemes by horse trainers, veterinarians, and performance-enhancing drug distributors. Since March 2020, the federal government has charged at least 31 people in relation to the schemes.

Prosecutors claim doping offenders intend to obtain prize money from racetracks across the US and other countries. In a statement to the court, Navarro confessed to his role. “I was the organizer for a criminal activity that involved five or more participants,” he commented. “I abused a position of trust as I was a licensed horse trainer and the horses were in my custody at the time.”

Navarro supposedly imported misbranded drugs to use on his own horses and to distribute to other trainers. Prosecutors allege that he worked with others to coordinate the administration of the drugs to avoid detection for cheating. The DOJ’s statement points specifically to the doping of Navarro’s most profitable horse X Y Jet.

At the hearing, Navarro admitted that he administered a drug to X Y Jet to “enhance his performance” in a February 13, 2019 race at Gulfstream Park and in the Dubai Golden Shaheen in March 2019. He gave the horse a substance he referred to as “monkey”. According to racing industry database provider Equibase, X Y Jet earned Navarro $3m in winnings before its death in 2020.

Vet also admits guilt

Veterinarian Kristian Rhein also pleaded guilty this month to his involvement in a doping scheme. Like Navarro, the defendant admitted to the distribution of performance-enhancing drugs among horse trainers in the US and abroad.

As noted by the DOJ, Rhein supposedly assisted in the doping of the 2019 Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security. The horse won almost all of its races that year, running eight races with six first-place finishes and one second-place finish. In March 2020, federal officials charged trainer Jason Servis with drugging the horse to improve its performance.

drug promotes stamina, endurance, and lowers the heart rate of horses

According to the charges against Rhein, he distributed two drugs known as Clenbuterol and SGF-1000. In June 2019, Maximum Security tested positive for SGF-1000 in New Jersey. The performance-enhancing drug promotes stamina, endurance, and lowers the heart rate of horses through the action of growth factors. 

A very current issue

This year, a Kentucky Derby scandal has made clear that doping is still a major issue in US horse racing. In two tests, race organizers found evidence of steroids in the sample of 2021 winner Medina Spirit. Churchill Downs has suspended legendary trainer Bob Baffert for two years as a result of the findings.

In response to the decision, Baffert filed a lawsuit against the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The trainer intended to complete further tests to establish the provenance of steroid traces found in the horse. In a ruling later that month, a Franklin Kentucky judge granted Baffert the right to further test the horse’s urine at a New York laboratory.

The laboratory recently indicated that the test results are still “at least several weeks” away.