The organizers of the inaugural Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race, are withholding the $20 million in prize money while they investigate whether the winner, Maximum Security, was aided by performance-enhancing drugs.
Last month, the trainer of the colt, Jason Servis, was among more than two dozen trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors accused, by federal prosecutors in the United States in a series of indictments, of secretly doping horses and cheating the betting public.
Servis has pleaded not guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit drug adulteration and misbranding.
The colt’s owners, Gary and Mary West, were due to collect a $10 million check after Maximum Security held off a hard-charging Midnight Bisou to capture the Saudi Cup on Feb. 29 at King Abdulaziz Racetrack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. On March 9, prosecutors announced the indictments.
In a statement, the Jockey Club of Saudi Arabia acknowledged it had been investigating the allegations made in the indictments and said its work had been slowed by the restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“J.C.S.A. is conducting its own investigation in respect of the allegations, and until that investigation is concluded, J.C.S.A. will withhold payment of prize money due to all connections of horses placed in prizewinning positions,” the statement said, also noting that all owners of horses in the race had been notified.
The purse structure for the Saudi Cup called for paying $3.5 million to the runner-up, $2 million to the third-place finisher and $1.5 million to the fourth-place finisher. The rest of the field was to be paid from $1 million down to $200,000 for the 10th-place finisher. If Maximum Security were to be disqualified, or “taken down,” Midnight Bisou would pick up the $10 million and every other finisher would move up and collect a bigger check.
“I agree it is appropriate for them to conduct their own investigation,” Gary West, one of the horse’s owners, wrote in an email.
Last May, Maximum Security crossed the finish line first at the Kentucky Derby, only to be disqualified for almost knocking over a rival horse and slowing the momentum of others. Country House, a 65-1 shot, was named the winner. Maximum Security went on to win four of his next five races, including the Saudi Cup.
Servis and Maximum Security have become favorites of horse racing enthusiasts largely because of what many thought was an unjust disqualification in America’s most famous race.
According to the indictments, however, Maximum Security was given performance-enhancing drugs, as were nearly all the horses under Servis’s control.
On Feb. 18, 2019, according to one of the indictments, Servis alerted another trainer who has been indicted, Jorge Navarro, via text message, that a racing official was in the barn area near where they kept the prohibited drugs, joint blockers and blood builders. On the same day, Navarro was overheard on a call with another defendant, saying that he would otherwise have been caught “pumping and pumping and fuming” every horse that ran that day.
On June 5, 2019, Maximum Security was drug-tested at his barn at Monmouth Park, N.J., as Servis was preparing him to run in the Pegasus Stakes. In a phone call intercepted by the authorities with one of his veterinarians, Kristian Rhein, Servis indicated that Maximum Security had received a shot of SGF-1000, a compounded drug aimed to enhance performance, the indictment said.