After a year in which New Mexico horse racing was the target of a slew of negative stories — including the deaths of quarter horses running in high-profile races and suspensions of trainers for doping — the proposed budgets from Gov. Susana Martinez and the Legislative Finance Committee have called for increased spending for the New Mexico Racing Commission.The budget recommendation from Gov. Martinez calls for $750,000 more for an improved testing regimen to catch dopers at tracks across the state while the LFC recommended at an $362,400 for the upcoming fiscal year.
“I think the Racing Commission has sent a message we’re not going to tolerate cheaters,” Commission Chairman Rob Doughty told Capitol Report New Mexico on Monday (Jan. 14). “And the governor’s budget (recommendation) understands that.”
Doughty said the $750,000 amount suggested by the governor’s office should be sufficient for the Racing Commission to help clean up the sport.
“That $750,000 number is what we need,” Doughty said. “It will help us increase the number of horses tested and help us do out of competition testing” in which horses will be randomly selected away from the track to make sure they haven’t been injected with illegal drugs designed to help them run through injuries, thus leading to break downs.
The commission is also looking to increase the number of investigators from two to five or six and institute necropsies (autopsies performed on animals) for every horse that breaks down on the track and dies.
Doughty said he disappointed that the LFC recommendation for more funding was about half of the governor’s recommended number, “But maybe it’s just a starting figure for negotiations,” he said.
Sen. Mary Kay Papen (D-Las Cruces) has been advocating for more testing and oversight and has introduced two bills in the upcoming 60-day legislative session aimed at strengthening rules for the industry. She’s also a member of the LFC. So would she prefer $362,400 or $750,000?
“Let me say this,” Sen. Papen said Monday, “I would welcome more dollars.”
In 2012, the Racing Commission passed a number of rules changes to crack down on the drugging of horses while a number of explosive stories featuring New Mexico made national headlines — including a New York Times exposé that claimed the state had the worst record in the country when it came to injuries as well as the suspensions of a two high-profile trainers for allegedly doping horses with a powerful painkillling drug referred to as “frog juice.”
“New drugs are being developed and we’re having a hard time getting the capability to test for it,” Doughty said back in June after the commission passed tougher guidelines. “… We’re trying to stay one step ahead of what new secret drug is going to be developed.”
Update 1/16: Laura Bonar of Animal Protection of New Mexico sent this e-mail reacting to the increased funding recommendations from the governor and the LFC: “New Mexicans expect and deserve an end to the cruelty and abuse in horseracing. More investigators and more testing are a must, along with a commitment from all players to meaningful change.”