Will the Roundhouse give the Racing Commission more money to crack down on cheaters?

By Rob Nikolewski on October 4, 2012
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It seems there’s a wave of support for getting tough on cheaters in New Mexico horse racing but a question remains: Will legislators give the more money to do it?

In the past two weeks, three high-profile trainers of quarter horses got the book thrown at them after horses they looked after were found to have — a painkiller that’s said to be 40 times more powerful than morphine — in their systems. At least one of those horses broke down after winning a race and .

Jeffrey Heath Reed received a 21-year suspension and $23,000 fine and Carlos Sedillo and John Bassett each were slapped with 10-year suspensions from training horses in the state and $10,000 penalties.

Officials at the racing commission want to increase the size of the penalties they can hand down, as well boost their budget to conduct more frequent drug tests and boost the manpower needed to enforce the rules and curb illegal match races held away from New Mexico race tracks that safety advocates say are dangerous for horses and jockeys.

But in order to do that, the state legislature has to pass a bill allowing the commission to make fines and suspensions tougher and — most important — increase the commission’s budget, which may be a tough sell given the lagging economy.

“Our budget in the last three to four years has been cut in half for testing race horses,” Racing Commission Chairman told . “I think [Roundhouse members] understand that and realize we need the money.”

In preliminary discussions with Roundhouse lawmakers, agency director said, “I am optimistic” that the commission might get the funding it’s asking for.

“We may lose horse racing” after the wave of bad publicity that has hit the state’s tracks this year, Mares said, “and it’s an industry that we cannot afford to lose.”

by two researchers at New Mexico State University estimated horse racing ownership provided $386 million to the state’s economy, not including the effects of the tracks themselves or associated gaming.

State Sen. (D-Las Cruces) says if she’s re-elected in November, she will introduce a bill calling for tougher penalties for trainers and owners who cheat.

“There’s some money out there for testing right now,” Sen. Papen said, “and if we’re going to keep this a viable industry — and this industry brings a lot of money to this state — then we’re going to need to figure out a way for the dollars that are coming into the state from the general fund, what piece of that do we need to put back out for [drug] testing to make sure that we’re a clean racing state.”

Fiscal conservatives might argue the increased money for testing and enforcement should come from the racing industry itself but Papen said perhaps the cost can be defrayed by allowing the commission to greatly increase the amount of fines it can dole out.

Right now, Doughty says, the New Mexico Racing Act limits fines to $10,000. The Racing Commission wants to increase fines to $50,000 per violation — the same as the national racing organization, the , can levy.

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