Editorial: Horse abuse prosecution needs teeth

Jess A Zoomin should have run in Monday's $2.4 million All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs.

But instead of racing for one of the sport's richest purses, the 2-year-old sorrel gelding had to be euthanized on Aug. 17 after breaking down at a race at the Ruidoso track.

Jess A Zoomin had been the second-fastest qualifier for the Futurity and was one of nine horses that tested positive for the illegal Class A drug dermorphin during May 25 trials for upcoming high-stakes races. Five of those horses, including Jess A Zoomin, were trained by the same trainer. Two other trainers had two horses each that tested positive for the exotic drug known in racing circles as "frog juice."

Dermorphin, a pain suppressant found on the skin of the waxy monkey tree frog native to South America, is 40 times more powerful than morphine. Illegal drugs can mask an injured horse's pain, allowing it to run when it shouldn't and endangering both horse and rider.

Suspicion of doping in horse racing is nothing new — especially in New Mexico. In March, a New York Times investigation into illegal doping of race horses concluded that New Mexico's five racinos collectively have the worst safety record in the nation. A large part of the reason is New Mexico's lax rules that allow trainers to drug their horses with near impunity.

The state Racing Commission is in the process of adopting tougher Association of Racing Commissioners International "model rules." It should be done without delay. Right now, trainers face a one-year suspension, a $5,000 fine and forfeiture of the race purse if found to have violated state regulations in effect at the time of the offense.

The results of the May 25 drug tests are being forwarded to state Attorney General Gary King for possible criminal prosecution.

Criminal prosecutions of racing misdeeds are rare. That should change. Perhaps a few convictions would help to clean up the action at New Mexico's tracks.

Authorities should throw the book at ethically challenged trainers who are willing to play the odds at the risk of killing noble creatures like Jess A Zoomin — the latest victim of these egregious practices.

— Albuquerque Journal

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