SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – New Mexico’s governor is demanding that horse racing regulators make immediate changes to address the use of performance-enhancing drugs at the state’s tracks and that they consult with Kentucky, California, and New York on best practices to ensure drug-free racing.
In a letter sent Thursday to the New Mexico Racing Commission, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pointed to the recent deaths of seven horses at Ruidoso Downs. The track will host the All American Futurity — the richest quarter horse race — over the Labor Day weekend.
“While subsequent measures were adopted to ensure the upcoming races at Ruidoso Downs will be more closely monitored, it is simply too little too late,” the governor wrote, suggesting that the state’s long history of horse racing has been “utterly and irreparably tarnished by the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs.”
Horse deaths have continued at tracks across the country as implementation of the federal government’s antidoping and medication control program has stumbled amid legal challenges and repeated delays. The rules were meant to replace a patchwork of regulations that vary across states and tracks.
Most recently, the trainer of racehorse champion Maximum Security was sentenced by a federal judge in New York to four years in prison for his role in an international scheme to drug horses to make them race faster. Jason Servis was among more than 30 defendants charged following a multiyear federal probe of the abuse of racehorses through the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
New Mexico’s horse racing industry was rocked by doping allegations uncovered by a New York Times investigation in 2012. Expanded testing and other regulations followed, but the industry has struggled to return to its golden years as competition from online wagering grows and rising costs have been prohibitive for some owners and breeders.
The Racing Commission had started to implement changes before getting the governor’s list of demands. Ismael Trejo, its executive director, said testing machines already were running around the clock and a special meeting was scheduled for Monday to address the governor’s concerns.
Regulators were checking blood cell counts and running tests on the vital organs of qualifiers for the upcoming races at Ruidoso, and the commission contracted with outside veterinarians to do pre-race inspections.
Trejo said all but one of the seven horses that died during the recent All-American trials were examined pre-race. He acknowledged that previously, with only one contract veterinarian on staff, most horses that ended up dying or were euthanized were not examined before racing.
“This is a performance measure for our agency, as best practice is to pre-race examine 100% of all horses,” he told The Associated Press in an email.
Lujan Grisham’s letter said 642 racehorses were euthanized in New Mexico between 2014 and 2022, the sixth-highest number in the country. The commission should mandate that all tracks follow the new standards being used at Ruidoso Downs, she said.
She also said all horses should have pre-race evaluations, complete with blood draws and continuous monitoring while they are in their stalls and during training.