Everything You Need To Know About Cheating in Horse Racing

min read
Horses with their jockeys racing around the corner on a grass race track.
BetMGM @BETMGM Mar 27, 2023, 4:06 AM

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that people will look for any advantage in a competitive event, even if it means cheating. This is especially true when there’s money on the line. With the huge amounts that could be won or lost when people bet on horse racing in online sports betting, cheaters are always on the lookout for ways to ensure that a race turns out a certain way. 

If you’re curious to learn more about cheating in horse racing, carry on reading. We explore the different ways people have tried to cheat the system, the consequences that cheaters can expect if they get caught and some of the biggest cheating scandals in horse racing history.

The Different Types Of Cheating in Horse Racing

There are different ways cheaters have tried to affect the outcome of a race. Here are some of the most common cheats that you’ll find in racing.

Doping

Drugs are one of the ways cheaters like to give themselves an edge over their competition. Just like competitive sports involving people, doping (using drugs to try and change the performance of an athlete, whether that athlete is a jockey or a horse) is explicitly prohibited. 

In most doping situations in horse racing, drugs are used to enhance the performance of a horse or to help a horse push past its natural physical limits. However, in some instances jockeys use drugs, albeit for different reasons, such as to help them lose weight so that they’re lighter on the horse or to calm them before a race. 

Race-Fixing

Whether it’s baseball, cricket, football, tennis or any other sport, you can rest assured that match-fixing has taken place at some point in its history. Race-fixing, just like match-fixing in other sports, is another method of cheating that has reared its ugly head in horse racing. Race fixing is usually accomplished by paying off a jockey (or a number of jockeys) to give another horse an edge. However, it can also involve paying a favorite to throw the race.

Ring-in

A ring-in is equally ridiculous and brilliant. In its article “The Fine Cotton Ring-In Racing Scandal Cost Wendy Her Career, But She’s Bounced Back,” ABC News described a ring-in as entering “a known slow horse in a race, making sure the odds are high so there’s plenty of money to be won, and then at the last minute, swap it for a faster horse and hope nobody notices.”

Sabotage

The most well-known case of sabotage in sports is undoubtedly the attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. Kerrigan, a top American figure skater at the time, was attacked shortly after a practice session by a man who struck her leg. The blow injured her knee and resulted in her having to withdraw from the U.S. Championships. It was later revealed that her attacker was hired by Jeff Gillooly, a man who was married at the time to one of Kerrigan’s rivals, Tonya Harding. While such an incredible story has not (yet) rocked the world of horse racing, there have been many instances where sabotage has been suspected.

The Consequences of Being Caught

Needless to say that if anyone is caught cheating, people will be punished for going against the competitive rules of horse racing. The most common ways people have been penalized for bending or ignoring the rules are:

  • Fines
  • Suspensions
  • Disqualification from an event
  • Banning from the sport which usually involves the loss of a racing license
  • Criminal charges that could result in jail time

A Few of the Biggest Horse Racing Cheating Scandals in History

Now that we know some of the ways people have tried to cheat their way to victory in a horse race, let’s take a look at three of the biggest horse racing cheating scandals ever.

1. Anthony “Big Tony” Ciulla and a Career of Horse Race Fixing

One of the most infamous people in horse racing is Anthony “Big Tony” Ciulla. He was a career race fixer who was involved with fixing hundreds of races and eventually joined the federal witness protection program. 

The Los Angeles Times article “The Story of ‘Big Tony’ and All of His Fixings” shares how Big Tony was involved with rigging races and how he would pay jockeys thousands of dollars to play along with his schemes. And when they were less than cooperative, he would live up to the name of Big Tony and use his size to intimidate or, in at least one case, beat them for trying to stand up to him. Once they were on board, he would ask them to make sure their horse, which was a favorite to win, didn’t make it into the top three and then bet on horses with great odds that were considered longshots and walk away with incredible payouts.

When a federal investigation landed him in trouble, he became a witness and provided testimony that led to the conviction of others involved in the fixing syndicates. 

2. The “Juice Man” Jorge Navarro, Winner of Seven Trainers Titles

Our second story shows how far some people will go to win, even if it results in their horses dying. Jorge Navarro was an award-winning horse trainer who ran a doping scheme involving designer drugs that wouldn’t be picked up by drug tests at the time. 

The New York Daily News article “Scandal-Scarred Horse Trainer Known As ‘Juice Man’ Slapped With Five-Year Sentence After Doping Confession” described how Navarro was sent to prison for his involvement in a doping scandal. Another member of his scheme admitted that six horses had died because of the drugs Navarro administered and that he had helped Navarro by covering up the evidence.

Navarro plead guilty to giving drugs to one of his prize thoroughbreds, which then died of a heart attack. He was sentenced to five years in prison and also ordered to pay $27 million in restitution. 

3. Famous Vet At Center Of Ring-In Cheating Scandal at Belmont Park

Dr. Mark Gerard was a famous veterinarian who was involved with caring for famous horses like Secretariat in the 1960s and 1970s, but unfortunately, his legacy will forever be tainted by a ring-in cheating scandal. 

The New York Times article “Mark Gerard, Veterinarian at Center of a Horse Race Fraud, Dies at 76” describes how an unknown horse named Lebon from Uruguay came out of nowhere to beat the competition at Belmont Park on September 23, 1977. Unfortunately, it was soon discovered that Lebon was in fact not Lebon, but another incredible horse named Cinzano that had won eight stakes races. This fact only came to light when the racing editor from a tabloid in Uruguay requested a photograph for his paper and noted the similarity between the two horses right away.

This led to Dr. Gerard being arrested, charged and eventually found guilty of a misdemeanor. He was fined $1,000 and spent time in Nassau County jail for the crime.

Enjoy the Best Horse Racing Bets With BetMGM and NYRA Bets

If you’d like to place a few wagers on the races and are looking for the best horse racing odds, look no further than BetMGM and NYRA Bets. When you bet with BetMGM and NYRA, our racing odds are amongst some of the best you can find online. And it’s all easily accessible through the BetMGM Horse Racing app which offers pari-mutuel, exotic and single-horse race betting options as well as the option to watch the races via live stream. 

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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.