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Horse owners contend Racing Commission is not working in best interest of the sport

An organization that represents thousands of race horse owners, breeders and trainers around New Mexico is challenging regulators in state district court over a recent decision to change the way some purse winnings are distributed.

Also at issue is the state Racing Commission’s move to halt the collection of fees that fund medical expenses for horsemen and their employees and legislative lobbying efforts.

The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association contends in recent court filings that commissioners are taking away a large portion of the group’s funding by prohibiting members from contributing 1% of their race winnings to the association and by ending the contribution of starter fees that fund medical expenses as well as fees that go toward advocacy efforts.

The association said the commission adopted the changes without any notice and horsemen were not given an opportunity to testify before the commission.

The group contends that commissioners made the changes as retaliation for its opposition to purse money being used to cover operational costs at the state’s five privately owned tracks. According to the group, more than $8 million has been diverted from purses to the tracks for certain operating expenses, including to purchase insurance.

The group also has criticized the commission for canceling some race meets and shortening others and has long demanded good tracks and safe and clean backsides, which include stable areas.

A motion filed this week by the association states that the commission sees the horsemen as “a thorn in their side” rather than a partner that has advocated for horse owners by protecting purse money and race dates.

“Let there be no mistake,” the motion stated. “This is a fight to save horse racing in New Mexico and if this commission wins, horse racing will sadly deteriorate to the point of being a sideshow at casinos existing solely to help casinos keep their license and keep the pueblos and Indian nations from claiming a breach of the Indian gaming compacts.”

The commission did not immediately comment on the pending litigation.

In a letter sent in May to association attorney Gary Mitchell, the commission’s lawyer wrote that the decision to halt contributions to the association from purse winnings was not taken lightly but that it will translate to an addition of about $700,000 a year to purse money.

The horsemen’s most recent motion argues that the commission has no control over the money that horsemen have won once races are concluded, testing has been done and the purses released.

“The money belongs to the horsemen and they use it as they see fit,” the association argued, saying the system for member contributions has been in place since the 1960s.

Horse owners mount legal challenge against NM panel