Churchill Downs enacts improvements for horse, rider safety

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs will invest $8 million for an on-site equine medical center as part of several other measures to improve safety for horses and riders.

The medical center is expected to open next March and will include a quarantine facility. Next month’s Kentucky Derby will have a temporary medical center. The track’s parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, will also hire an equine medical director to oversee safety at its facilities.

The historic track will also install camera surveillance with other improvements to the backside area.

Earlier Thursday, Churchill Downs and several other tracks announced they would phase out use of the anti-bleeding medication Lasix for horses within 24 hours of racing. The track later announced other initiatives, including advocating for additional equine medication reforms; the formation of an Office of Racing Integrity that will to develop uniformed medication and safety standards; formalizing concussion protocol for jockey safety; and adopting international standards for riding crop use.

Jason Servis, trainer of Maximum Security, pleads guilty to drugging his horses

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NEW YORK – Trainer Jason Servis, whose horse Maximum Security was the 3-year-old champion in 2019, pleaded guilty Friday to federal charges involving a widespread scheme to drug horses.

The 65-year-old New Jersey-based trainer faces four years in prison when he is sentenced next May in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. He was the last defendant facing charges in the scheme, and now 23 of the 31 individuals charged have pleaded guilty.

Servis pleaded guilty in connection with his role in the distribution of adulterated and misbranded drugs intended for use on horses in his stable.

“Servis’ conduct represents corruption at the highest levels of the racehorse industry,” Damian Williams, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement. “As a licensed racehorse trainer, Servis was bound to protect the horses under his care and to comply with racing rules designed to ensure the safety and well-being of horses and protect the integrity of the sport.”

Servis’ attorney, Rita Glavin, did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.

Servis was charged in 2020 after a wide-ranging investigation into doping in the horse racing industry. Racing authorities suspended his trainer’s license.

Maximum Security finished first in the 2019 Kentucky Derby but was disqualified for interference during the running of the race. The colt finished first in the $10 million Saudi Cup shortly before Servis’ arrest in March 2020. Saudi officials later withheld the winner’s share of the purse, citing Servis’ arrest and indictment.

“I don’t take any solace in other peoples misery, actually quite the opposite I feel some empathy for them,” Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Graham Motion tweeted, “but the reality is that those of us who were beaten by Jason Service’s (sic) horses have little to show for it other than losing money, owners and horses due to his success.”

Another New Jersey-based trainer, Jorge Navarro, is serving a five-year prison sentence after pleading guilty a year ago. Eleven of the defendants were trainers and seven were veterinarians.

Servis is the brother of trainer John Servis, who trained Smarty Jones to victories in the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness before the colt lost his Triple Crown bid in the Belmont.

Irad Ortiz sets single-season record with 77th stakes win

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NEW YORK – Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. earned his record 77th single-season North American stakes victory when he guided Dr B to victory in the $200,000 Go for Wand at Aqueduct.

The 30-year-old native of Puerto Rico broke the old mark of 76 set by the late Hall of Fame rider Garrett Gomez in 2007.

“This is great. Amazing feeling,” said Ortiz, Jr., who won the Eclipse Award as outstanding jockey from 2018-20. “Gomez did it in 2007 and he was a great rider, one of the best in the game. I’m so happy just to be a part of this. I love this sport.”

Ortiz Jr. won the Belmont Stakes with Mo Donegal in June to go with Breeders’ Cup victories in the Juvenile, Filly & Mare Sprint and Sprint. He also earned nine other Grade 1 wins in New York, including Life Is Good in the Woodward and Whitney and Nest in the Alabama and Coaching Club Oaks. He won riding titles at Belmont’s spring-summer meet and Saratoga’s summer meet.

Ortiz Jr. leads North American riders with 304 overall victories this year. His purse earnings totaled over $35.8 million going into Saturday’s races, which already surpassed his single-season record of $34.1 million in 2019.