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Horse racing is one of America’s oldest traditions; showcasing history, grandeur and beautiful athletes. However ‘the sport of kings’ is tainted by many cheating scandals.
Race-fixing and horse doping are some of the deepest issues the sport has had to overcome, leaving an image of shady characters and under-the-table dealings.
Here are some of the most shocking horse racing scandals to have occurred throughout history.
#1 The Godolphin Doping Scandal
Back in 2013, Godophin, one of the most powerful teams in horse racing was involved in a huge doping scandal involving 11 champion horses.
Team Godolphin, under the instructions of their head trainer, had being injected their horses with banned anabolic steroids for at least ten years. The 11 horses in question had won more than $2m (£1.31m) in prize winnings.
In a Godolphin statement, trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni admitted to the “catastrophic mistake” of giving the steroids to horses, including the unbeaten filly Certify.
Godolphin is a private thoroughbred stable owned by the monarch of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed, who was unaware of the illegal activity. Al Zarooni was immediately dismissed following the scandal, and the horses were soon after clear fit to race.
The Godolphin doping scandal was one of the biggest horse racing scandals in recent memory.
#2 The Mysterious Disappearance of Shergar
Irish racehorse Shergar was a national hero, winning many distinguished races during the 1970s, notably the 1981 Derby by 10 lengths.
At one point, Shergar was reportedly valued at £10 million in shares.
On 8 February 1983, Shergar was stolen by six masked gunmen and never seen again.
The IRA are the strongest suspects rumoured to have stolen Shergar, with the purpose of raising money for arms. The theory has been backed by former IRA member Sean O’Callaghan in his tell-all book The Informer. A supposed £5 million ransom was given to Shergar owner Aga Khan, but the demand went unmet. It is assumed the horse was killed shortly after being snatched.
Shergar’s remains have never been found and the thieves have never been officially identified.
This legendary horse racing scandal has been the inspiration for several books, documentaries, and a film.
#3 The Uruguay Swap
In the 1960s and 70s, Dr. Mark Gerard was a top equine veterinarian and a trusted name in racing, working with the world’s best horses and trainers.
In May 1977, Gerard purchased top 3-year-old Uruguayan horse Cinzano — on behalf of computer executive Joseph Taub — for $81, 000. Following this he bought Lebon, a horse who’d won one race in two years, for $1,600.
Gerard went on to perform one of the most known horse swapping scandals for decades. The two horses bore a strong resemblance: the essential factor that allowed the swap to be possible.
Gerard claimed Cinzano had died in an accident on his farm in Long Island, receiving $150,000 in insurance.
On September 23, 1977, the real Cinzano entered a the race at Belmont Park as “Lebon” — winning at astonishing 57-to-one odds.
However, Gerard slipped up by betting on “Lebon” himself, earning $80,440 in winnings. A Uruguayan journalist spotted the difference in the horses, and Gerard was sentenced to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine.
Mark Gerard died on June 21, 2001 in Miami, USA, at the age of 76.
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#4 The Treviño Morales Drug Cartel & Mr. Piloto
Miguel Treviño Morales was a drug lord and leader of Los Zetas — a lethal Mexican cartel which smuggled vast quantities of cocaine between Mexico and the Dallas, Texas. Between 2009 and 2012, Trevino Morales and his family smuggled $20 million from the Los Zetas cartel into quarter horse breeding and racing.
With the help of his ‘clean’ brother Jose, he attempted to off-load drug money from this cartel by anonymously buying cheap quarter horses for large amounts of money.
The two set up a farm in Oklahoma to breed, train and race horses; reportedly infusing up to $16 million of laundered money from the Los Zetas cartel into the American Quarter Horse Association.
After a while these unknown horses became some of the best in the sport. In 2010, quarter horse Mr. Piloto won the All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs at odds of 22-to-one; and Tempting Dash, who won the Dash for Cash race in Grand Prairie, Texas.
It has been rumoured that Treviño Morales bribed gate keepers to hold back the horses, giving Mr Piloto the best chance of winning the race. However, this claim has never been substantiated.
In May, Jose Trevino Morales was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The scale of the incident stands out one of the largest horse racing scandals in recent memory.
#5 The scrutiny of Steve Asmussen
Over a 26-year career, horse trainer Steve Asmussen had built one of horse racing’s largest and most successful operations.
He has the second highest number of victories, with more than 6,700 wins — earning him more than $21 million in purses.
However, in March 2014, following an investigation by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the trainer and his long term assistant Scott Blasi, were accused of various forms of animal cruelty. These included administering drugs to horses for non-therapeutic purposes and jockeys using electrical devices to shock horses into running faster.
The evidence includes seven hours of video footage showing how often injections and tranquillizers are administered to horses.
Steve Asmussen has also been reprimanded for his unfair treatment of employees. For the second time in three years, in 2015 Asmussen was sued by the US Department of Labour for not paying overtime to grooms and hot walkers.
#6 The 2002 Breeders’ Cup Betting Scandal
This horse betting scandal arose when computer programmer Chris Harn conspired — along with friends Derrick Davis and Glen DaSilva — to manipulate bets in the 2002 Breeders’ Cup.
Harn worked for Autotote, a company that handled the wagers for 65% of horse races in North America. As an employee, Harn was forbidden from placing any bets at horse races but had open access to the data which he used to reprint unclaimed tickets.
The three used this system to bet on small races, but due to the risk factor from cashing ticket wins, decided to bet on one big race.
In 2002 the scam was exposed when a 43-to-1 longshot won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Davis was exposed as sole winner of the Pick 6 jackpot which raised suspicion amongst officials.
This particular horse race scandal exposed serious security flaws used to in bet collection.
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