New Mexico’s Governor Criticizes Horse Racing Deaths and Doping, Demands Action

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New Mexico’s Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has publicly expressed concern over the state’s horse racing industry. That’s particularly after seven horse fatalities occurred at the Ruidoso Downs racetrack (pictured) between August 11 and 13. In a letter to the New Mexico Racing Commission, the governor emphasized the need for enhanced health and safety regulations.

“As you know, horse racing in New Mexico has a long and distinguished history. I am sad to say that it appears that legacy has been utterly and irreparably tarnished by the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs,” Governor Grisham wrote in her letter. She further criticized the commission for its perceived inaction on the issue.

The news follows the reopening of Kentucky’s iconic Churchill Downs last month after it was forced to close for several months as it investigated a series of equine fatalities. The unfortunate incidents included several over the weekend of the prestigious Kentucky Derby.

In response to the Governor Grisham’s concerns, the Racing Commission convened a special meeting in which Commissioner Billy G. Smith highlighted the urgency of the situation to all present,

“We need to be really, really hard on this industry right now, or we are going to lose a big part of it,” he said.

Loud and Clear

The New Mexico Racing Commission is now introducing a directive that requires the approval of a private veterinarian, a racetrack veterinarian, and a state veterinarian for all horses before they can race.

Governor Grisham’s proposed standards for the industry include pre-race evaluations for all horses, mandatory blood draws with complete blood counts, continuous monitoring of horses in their stalls, prior approval for all medications, and stricter requirements for home-trained horses.

Tom Goncharoff, president of the New Mexico Horse Breeders Association, also acknowledged the challenges facing the industry.

“I think the governor highlighted that we better do something and get this right. And I think everybody heard that message loud and clear,” said Goncharoff.

He also pointed out that horse fatalities in racing are not unique to New Mexico, and that California and New York have taken successful steps towards eliminating the problem in recent years.

The governor’s letter also shed light on a concerning statistic: between 2014 and 2022, 642 horses were euthanized in New Mexico. While some argue that this number is a small fraction of the total horses involved in New Mexico’s racing events, the figure is still alarming.

Ismel Trejo, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, said that new steps have already been taken, including extra testing machines at the Ruidoso track.

He conceded that not all the recent horses that died were checked before their races, although he said six out of the most recent seven cases were assessed prior to racing.

“This is a performance measure for our agency, as best practice is to pre-race examine 100% of all horses,” Trejo told the Associated Press.

Vets Overwhelmed

Performance-enhancing drugs also remain a significant concern in the industry. Commissioner Smith discussed the challenges of catching those who cheat the system.

“They have more sophisticated chemists than we have. They’re way ahead of us, and every lab that I’ve talked to says the chances of catching them are very, very slim,” he said.

The Racing Commission also emphasized the need for more resources. Currently, the commission has only one veterinarian on staff, a number that pales in comparison to states like Kentucky, which employs seven.

“They’re the best advocates for the horses,” Trejo said. “We’ve lived with just one vet, and that’s only one person to try to do pre-race examinations and operate our test barn. They’re…They’re overwhelmed.”

Taking a wider view, U.S. horse racing is facing a tough year with all these cases of equine fatalities and other controversies. So much so, that the 50-year tradition of the Triple Crown timetable might be forced to change to make the sport safer for horses.

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