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Editorial: Sanctions Put Horse Dopers on Notice

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New Mexico Racing Commission stewards have taken the whip to several rogue trainers for doping horses.

Jeffrey Heath Reed was suspended from racing in New Mexico for 21 years and fined $23,000 after four horses he was training tested positive for a potent painkiller, dermorphin, at Ruidoso Downs in May. Reed also must forfeit $8,400 in purse money.

Dermorphin, said to be 40 times more powerful than morphine, is derived from the skin of a tree frog native to South America. Known in racing circles as “frog juice,” it can be used illicitly to mask an injured horse’s pain, but doing so risks a catastrophic breakdown that can injure or kill the horse and its rider.

Reed trained Jess A Zoomin, the second-fastest qualifier for the $2.4 million All American Futurity at Ruidoso Downs. Instead of running in the Labor Day race, the 2-year-old sorrel gelding had to be euthanized on Aug. 17 after breaking down at a race at the Ruidoso track.

Stewards also sanctioned trainer Carlos Sedillo because two of his horses tested positive for dermorphin during the futurity trials. He was suspended for 10 years, fined $10,000 and ordered to forfeit $4,200 in purse money.

In late September, prominent trainers John H. Bassett and Carl W. Draper were sanctioned after horses they trained flunked drug tests in May.

Bassett, who has trained two winners of the All American Futurity, was suspended from racing for 10 years, fined $10,000 and ordered to return purse money after two of his horses tested positive for dermorphin.

Draper was suspended for 300 days, fined $6,000 and ordered to forfeit his winnings after four of his horses tested positive for ractopamine, which mimics the effects of steroids.

Action against the trainers comes in the wake of a March New York Times report that New Mexico’s five racinos collectively had the worst safety record in the nation, and that lax regulations allowed trainers to illegally drug their horses with near impunity.

Though New Mexico racing officials say the article portrayed the state unfairly, the commission has adopted a number of regulations promoted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International that are far stricter than the state’s previous rules. All four trainers were sanctioned under the old rules because the new ones didn’t take effect until July 3.

It’s tragic that it seems to have taken negative national headlines and the unnecessary death of Jess A Zoomin to get the commission to start cleaning up New Mexico’s horse-racing industry.

Having finally left the starting gate, the commission needs to stay on course so these noble creatures can safely compete on New Mexico’s tracks. It’s to the benefit of everyone involved with the industry and the racinos that depend upon racing to exist.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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