A state grand jury is probing allegations of harness-race fixing at Saratoga Gaming and Raceway — specifically, that horses were doped with painkilling snake venom and an energy-boosting drug during the tony summer season, The Post has learned.
A 23-member panel in upstate Saratoga County was convened last week by District Attorney James Murphy to begin hearing evidence, including wiretapped conversations against as many as a dozen targets, sources familiar with the investigation said.
The venom can be injected directly into a horse's throbbing joint to deaden soreness or tenderness that might inhibit an animal from trotting at full gait.
Performance-enhancing Epogen helps increase red blood cells, which boost oxygen levels and provide speed and endurance.
"The best pharmacist can always beat the best horse in any race anytime," a track observer said.
DA Murphy declined to confirm or deny that there was a grand jury proceeding.
The investigation began last September, shortly after the popular summer racing season, which attracts the well-heeled, affluent horse set, sources said.
At the time, the DA's investigators and State Police received court authorization to wiretap targets of the investigation and eavesdropped on dozens of people for about three months.
In addition, the sources said, investigators with search warrants carried out numerous raids, including one at a Saratoga County barn where they uncovered Epogen.
Investigators traced the banned drug to a missing batch of Epogen that was stolen from an undisclosed hospital on the East Coast, sources say.
It was unclear how investigators became interested in the possible use of snake venom, which they believe was obtained in Florida, where several of the largest serpentariums are located.
Nancy Haast, whose 96-year-old husband, William, was an original proponent of the positive health effects of snake venom and the founder of the Miami Serpentarium, said venom providers sell the toxin only to veterinarians, university research centers and pharmaceutical companies.
George Van Horn, owner of Reptile World Serpentarium in St. Clouds, explained that cobra venom is considered a "nerve blocker" that "stops pain."