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Animal Defenders of Westchester
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Busted at Big M for horse-doping

Published in the NY DAILY NEWS, 4/3/06:

Harness racer reined in

April 3, 2006

Eric Ledford  

Scandal rocked the horse racing world when one of the leading harness drivers was busted at the Meadowlands in a horse-doping scheme, police said yesterday.

Eric Ledford, 35, was nabbed inside the locker room at the Big M after cops realized that his father's stable was producing results that were just too good to believe.

"What made us look into the [stable]? The performance," New Jersey State Police Sgt. Stephen Jones said. "It was typical of horses entering this stable to vastly improve."

A veterinarian and two workers for Seldon Ledford Stables also were charged in the scheme to inject horses with powerful drugs that turned nags into record-beaters.

Investigators found syringes and caches of erythropoietin (EPO) and Aranesp, which stimulate production of red-blood cells and allow horses to run longer and faster.

Aranesp rarely produces antibodies in a horse's bloodstream and is normally undetectable with current postrace antibody tests. All forms of EPO are currently banned in the horse racing industry.

Police said their investigation, dubbed Operation Horsepower, would send a message to the industry that doping and cheating will no longer be allowed.

"By taking down one of the top finishers in the sport, Operation Horsepower will create a ripple effect that will be felt throughout the entire horse racing industry," said Maj. Jim Fallon.

Ledford, the No.3 driver at the Meadowlands, was charged with conspiring to fix races.

Veterinarian John Witmer, 68, of Freehold faces similar charges and had assets and bank accounts worth $1 million frozen.

Stable workers Ryan Dailey and his wife, Ardena, both 31, of East Windsor, N.J., are charged with drug possession and race fixing.

Seldon Ledford, who owns the stable, wasn't charged, but cops said the probe is continuing.

Ledford Stables was a little-known operation until its horses started a remarkable run at the Meadowlands, the nation's most prominent harness track. Its horses are winning an eye-popping 27% of their races this year.

Horses who would never be confused with the famed Niatross often shaved seconds off their best times right after joining the stable - a telltale sign that something fishy might be going on.

One also-ran named Mighty Mite Morgan finished eighth and posted a time of 1:58 in a Jan. 18 race. The very next time out, it romped to victory in an amazing time of 1:52.4 - equivalent to a 26-length improvement.

"Horse after horse after horse, they come to the Ledford barn and they start winning," said Derick Giwner, editor of the Harness Eye newspaper. "Something like that really makes you wonder."

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