ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Horse racing regulators in New Mexico on Thursday adopted changes to the state’s doping rules to align with the latest guidelines and recommendations issued by the Association of Racing Commissioners International as tracks in the state and elsewhere brace for the implementation next year of a new federal law that aims to set national medication and safety standards for the industry.
The changes approved by the state Racing Commission address a range of issues, from more restrictive standards for certain drugs and penalties for major violations to financial requirements and the process for protesting race results. A doubling of the fee for filing a protest drew the most criticism.
Commissioners indicated that increasing the fee to $1,000 would help to prevent frivolous protests from being filed. But some horse owners argued that it amounted to fine rather than a fee and that the higher cost would discourage people from questioning any race calls.
It was unclear how many protests are typically filed during a season, but commission executive director Izzy Trejo said most of the appeals are not reversed.
Pressure has been mounting nationwide for tougher regulations after a series of doping scandals and a rash of horse fatalities in recent years. In December, then-President Donald Trump signed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, banning race-day doping of horses and clearing the way for an independent authority to set uniform, national standards for medication, track safety and testing of horses for performance-enhancing drugs.
Trejo told commissioners Thursday that the constitutionality of the new law is being challenged in federal court by a national horsemen’s group. “We'll see where that goes,” he said.
Trejo also said the commission’s staff is getting ready for live racing to resume next month at SunRay Park in Farmington now that public health restrictions prompted by the coronavirus pandemic have been eased. The industry has been hit hard, as the casinos that help bankroll the races and purse winnings were forced to close last year.
Commission Chairman Sam Bregman said he can't wait to watch horse racing again in New Mexico, acknowledging the work that the commission staff, horse breeders, owners and trainers have put in.
“I think we're all pushing the ball in the same direction and we're very much focused on getting things done and getting this industry back up on its feet,” he said.
Richard Erhard, executive director of the New Mexico Horsemen's Association, said he's cautiously optimistic about recovery and that it will take each facet of the industry to focus on their common interests as they rebuild.
“The bigger issue here is if we can get everything up and running and work collaboratively on this," he said in an interview. “There’s enough money generated by virtue of live horse racing and the associated gaming. You put those two business together, and it represents the third-largest economic engine in the state. This is an important industry.”
As for the updated medication rules, the commission opted for a 60-day grace period for owners and trainers to meet the more restrictive levels set for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Bregman put them on notice, saying those who violate the old standard will still face sanctions while warnings will be issued during the grace period for violating the new limits.