Horse-Doping Defendants Say Judge Was Breeder, Seek Her Recusal

Thoroughbred trainers, veterinarians and drug distributors charged in an expansive doping probe asked the federal judge on the case to step aside, saying she bred racehorses and is a potential victim.

Lawyers for the defendants, including leading trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis, filed a motion on Thursday asking U.S. District Judge Mary Kay Vyskocil to recuse herself from the case. They said she was a breeder “for a number of years,” was a member of New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. for a decade and a half, and had horses that directly competed with those trained by Navarro and Servis on at least four occasions.

Prosecutors say the investigation is the largest of racehorse doping in U.S. history.

The defendants said Vyskocil’s former partner in the breeding business, New York State Supreme Court Justice Barry Ostrager, was also a potential victim as he was on the New York Thoroughbred Breeders board and is a longstanding member of the Jockey Club. That organization, which sets standards for thoroughbred breeding and racing in the U.S., played a key role in the probe that led to the charges, the defendants said.

They also cited Vyskocil’s work representing the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, a charity that works for the care of injured and retired horses, while she was a partner at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP.

“In sum, your honor has numerous overlapping relationships with the racehorse industry, racehorse owners, racetracks, and with related state and local agencies,” they said in the filing. “In addition, your honor’s prior experiences may place you in the category of putative victims of the wrongdoing alleged in this case. Standing alone, or in combination, these facts would cause a reasonably objective observer to question the court’s impartiality.”

Vyskocil didn’t immediately respond to an email sent through the district executive’s office seeking comment on the motion for recusal. Ostrager didn’t immediately respond to a message left with his chambers.

More than two dozen people have been charged in the probe. So far, three defendants have admitted to charges against them, while the others have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

The case is U.S. v Navarro, 20-cr-160, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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