ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Legislative analysts say New Mexico horse racing regulators have more to do if they want to further reduce the number of racehorse fatalities at tracks around the state.
They also warned during a meeting Thursday that more challenges are likely as tracks, horse owners and others in the business look to recover from the effects of the pandemic and deal with uncertainty stemming from a new federal law aimed at regulating the industry.
The Legislative Finance Committee is in the process of reviewing the New Mexico Racing Commission as required by state statute. The committee must hold a public hearing and take testimony before recommending to the rest of the Legislature before next year whether the agency should continue operating.
In January, legislative officials pointed to the racehorse deaths, drug violations and the inability of the Racing Commission to collect penalty fees as issues that needed further review.
Democratic Sen. George Munoz of Gallup said the commission needs to make more progress or lawmakers may have to resort to enacting new legislation that would force the agency to follow through.
“We've got to get it figured out,” he said.
According to a briefing by legislative staff, New Mexico has seen high rates of racehorse injuries and fatalities. An investigation in 2012 found that five of the seven tracks with the nation’s highest incident rates were in New Mexico and that four of the state’s five tracks had incident rates double the national average.
While all five tracks saw declines in their fatality rates over recent years, the report states 112 horses died as a result of race-related injuries between 2018 and 2020.
The Racing Commission has been increasing out-of-competition testing since 2016 and plans to do more. However, the agency has only one staff veterinarian.
The commission has indicated it needs two more vets to effectively conduct drug testing and other oversight activities. That would include meeting a goal of examining all horses scheduled to race each race day. Currently, fewer than 30% of horses are inspected before a race.