Navarro out – but Chublicious in – for Saturday’s De Francis Dash
Note: This article was updated on September 18 to reflect one additional resolved and one additional pending drug/medication issue incurred or faced by Navarro. Neither of these was listed in the Thoroughbredrulings.com site. We regret their exclusion in the earlier version.
by Frank Vespe
Jorge Navarro won’t be at Laurel Park Saturday — or, likely, any time soon.
But a horse he has trained — and nominated to Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park — is expected in the De Francis starting gate.
Chublicious, formerly trained by Navarro, will start for Laurel-based trainer Claudio Gonzalez. Two others of Navarro’s — Grade 1 winner El Deal and multiple Grade 3 winner X Y Jet — were not permitted to enter. That, said Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra, is the result of a purposeful decision.
Yet, while racing fans are used to — or perhaps resigned to — the phenomenon of program trainers and the practice of suspended trainers passing their strings to their assistants for safekeeping, Maryland Jockey Club president Sal Sinatra says this situation is different. Claudio Gonzalez will be the trainer of record for Chublicious.
“That owner has horses here with Claudio,” Sinatra said. “That horse trains here every year with Claudio. He’s a Jersey-bred.”
Navarro — the trainer who, with owner Randal Gindi, was involved in the notorious “juice man” video — was fined $5,000 by the stewards at Monmouth Park, where the episode took place, and the stewards referred the case to the state Racing Commission with a recommendation that the fine be doubled. Stewards at Indiana Grand, where Navarro had planned to run Duchess of Duke in a stake, forced him to scratch the horse because of a state rule prohibiting licensing a horseman with a pending matter in another jurisdiction. In the video, the two men taunt the person filming the episode that they “(expletive) everyone,” use “juice” on horses, and wager — illegally — with bookies.
In Maryland, the MJC quickly announced it would not accept entries from Navarro. That ruled out Grade 1 winner El Deal and multiple Grade 3 winner X Y Jet.
But Chublicious is a horse of a different color. The six-year-old has spent each summer of his racing career, which began in 2014, at Monmouth Park. In 2016, he spent it there in Navarro’s barn and won three times. Once Monmouth closed, and Navarro decamped to Gulfstream Park, owner David Gruskos sent the Hey Chub gelding to Gonzalez at Laurel, where he remained until the spring, when Monmouth reopened. That had been the plan once again this year.
Chublicious is 8-1 on the morning line. Had El Deal been permitted to start, he likely would have been odds-on.
According to Sinatra, Navarro contacted the racing office to see if it would accept his entries. When told no, he sought to have Chublicious entered via Gonzalez. Sinatra said that would be permissible only if the horse came immediately to Gonzalez’ barn and remained there afterwards. Gonzalez, who at first demurred, subsequently said he was comfortable with the arrangement; and Chublicious was permitted to enter.
“I didn’t feel I should penalize that owner given the situation of the other owner and Navarro being imbeciles,” Sinatra said.
It is in some sense a curious situation. Many in racing assume Navarro must be doing something illegal, and having an owner crow about “juicing” horses certainly furthers that impression. His 41 percent strike rate at the just-completed Monmouth meet feeds into that, and his 31 percent win rate overall in the last two years doesn’t help, either. Yet the only ruling against him in New Jersey prior to the video episode was, according to Thoroughbredrulings.com, a $100 fine for a fire code violation.
While that website shows no medication violations since 2012, in fact Navarro incurred several flunixin overages in 2012. Additionally, in February of this year a horse he trained tested positive for cocaine following a race at Gulfstream Park. Navarro has denied administering the drug to the horse and suggested environmental contamination as the most likely cause.
All of which raises the question: are the punishments being assessed a fair application of justice on a trainer who may be loud and may be a braggart — and may be, as Sinatra said, an imbecile — but who otherwise does not have an egregious record?
Sinatra says they are fair.
“It’s not a drug positive,” he said. “But in my opinion, it’s no different than an employee on Facebook bashing the place — they’re going to get suspended. You know what? You want to bash the industry or make fun of it, being a leading trainer, it’s asinine.”
Navarro has started fewer than a dozen horses in Maryland in the last three years, just one, Sinatra said, this year. Sinatra would not predict what comes next, pointing instead to the September 20 New Jersey Racing Commission, at which the Commission will consider the Navarro matter.
“We’ll see what they do then,” he said. “We’ll see how it plays out.”