NM passes bill aims to crack down on horse-racing cheaters
TO CATCH CHEATERS: The New Mexico Legislature just passed a bill that will eject horse trainers and owners suspected of doping race horses from the state’s race tracks.
By Rob Nikolewski │ New Mexico Watchdog
SANTA FE, N.M. – After developing a reputation as a haven for cheaters, New Mexico is trying to clean up horse racing in the state.
In the just-completed 30-day legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill aimed at cracking down on trainers and owners who dope their horses with performance-enhancing drugs.
“I say that horse racing is the sport of kings, and we don’t want it to be the sport of cheaters,” Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said of Senate Bill 116, which passed both chambers of the New Mexico legislature unanimously. Gov. Susana Martinez has indicated she will sign the bill into law in the within the next three weeks.
Under the bill, race track owners can eject anyone whose license has been suspended or revoked for drugging horses from the grounds of their facilities.
Furthermore, in cases in which doping has been suspected, a hearing officer will be assigned within 90 days, with the final decision made by the New Mexico Racing Commission. Those accused can appeal by putting up a $500 fee, but if they lose their case they forfeit the $500.
“I think it makes all the sense in the world,” said Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, who sponsored her own bill that mirrored Papen’s. “We need to be a leader in the nation and not have everybody looking at New Mexico and saying, ‘If you want to cheat, go the Land of Enchantment.’ ”
Under the current system, people suspected of drugging their horses could remain at racetracks, as long as their cases were being appealed.
A backlog has ensued. The longest-running case involves trainer Jose R. Gonzalez Jr., accused of injecting a horse with a drug that’s a byproduct of cocaine. The case is nearly five years old.
Among some of the other drugs listed in the appeals is Clenbuterol — which increases oxygen into the lungs of a horse and was banned by the racing commission in 2012 — and Dermorphin — a painkiller considered 40 times more powerful than morphine that’s known around race tracks as “frog juice.”
The reasoning behind injecting horses with pain killers is this: If the horse has a nagging injury, the drugs will numb it so that the horse will run through the pain. But by doing so, the injuries are likely to get worse, or the horse will break down and be destroyed.
The just-passed bill is one of a number of efforts to fix horse racing in New Mexico.
Last year, two state laws were passed to improve testing procedures and dramatically increase fines for people caught injecting their horses with illegal substances. The racing commission has passed a series of regulations to improve the safety of jockeys and horses at New Mexico’s five licensed tracks.
“Everybody should play by the rules,” Ezzell told New Mexico Watchdog. “It’s time cheaters understand we aren’t going to allow this to continue in the state of New Mexico.”
Contact Rob Nikolewski at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @robnikolewski
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