In a previous life, Leon Biegalski must have been Monty Hall, host of the popular 1960s TV game show “Let's Make a Deal.” Or maybe he was Barney Fife on the “Andy Griffith Show.” He certainly wasn't Sgt. Joe Friday from “Dragnet.”
On Friday, Biegalski, in his role as director of the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering – the state's bungling horse racing regulatory agency – signed a consent order giving trainer Jorge Navarro a 60-day suspension that began on Monday, Oct. 7.
As the Church Lady from “Saturday Night Live” might say, “How convenient.”
Maybe it's just a coincidence that 20 months after six horses from Navarro's barn tested positive for the anti-inflammatory Banamine, the trainer was able to live the dream and win a Monmouth Park training title, then begin his suspension the day after the Monmouth Park meeting ended. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Navarro had a very good meet at Monmouth, winning 47 races from 146 starters, with 33 finishing second and 16 third. That's a win ratio of 32 percent and a 1-2- 3 percentage of 66 percent. Being good shouldn't allow him to schedule his own suspension.
He had similar numbers at Tampa Bay Downs, where the alleged Banamine violations occurred in January and February 2012. Navarro had a 32 percent strike rate during that 2011-2012 meet and 35 percent in the 2012-13 meeting.
The beat goes on in his absence. The first horse from Navarro's barn that started after the suspension took effect on Monday, J B's Unc, won his fourth consecutive race since Navarro claimed him for $5,000 at Churchill Downs out of a fifth-place finish on May 25. Only this time, running in a Parx allowance race, he was saddled by Alexander Martinez. J B's Unc has made $82,800 for his owners, High Point Thoroughbred Partners, since being claimed by Navarro. He won his first three races for them by an average of more than nine lengths. That is some form reversal.
Now that this matter is “closed,” will Tampa Bay Downs officials take action against Jorge Navarro as they did against Jane Cibelli? It looks like Biegalski planned Navarro's time off perfectly, as the 60-day suspension ends on opening day of the Tampa Bay meeting. Can I get a “hallelujah” from the Church Lady?
This is beyond outrageous. Why did this case drag on for 20 months? Why was there never any notice of a stewards hearing involving Navarro and these six alleged medication violations? Why did director Biegalski so obviously give Navarro an opportunity to pick his suspension dates so that it would be convenient to winning a training title at Monmouth Park? Why does Florida Gov. Rick Scott allow his regulatory agency to operate in such a dysfunctional, secretive and incompetent manner?
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