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New Mexico’s Misguided Effort To Rein In Drug Abuse

New Mexico’s Misguided Effort To Rein In Drug Abuse Thoroughbred News

Legislation has been introduced in the New Mexico state Senate that would prohibit racehorses at tracks under the jurisdiction of the New Mexico Racing Commission from having in their system, at any time, “any level of a drug, chemical, stimulant depressant or other substance not naturally occurring.”

Michael Sanchez, majority floor leader of the Democratic Party-led Senate, is the author of the bill, SB 366. which, it is hoped, has zero chance of passage with its current language. As written, the bill would prohibit a veterinarian from using medication to treat a horse for any sickness, disease or lameness, if that horse is to race again.

Section 1, subsection A, of the bill reads:

“It is a violation of the Horse Racing Act for a racehorse present at a facility under the jurisdiction of the commission to have in its system any level of a drug, chemical, stimulant, depressant or other substance not naturally occurring in a horse or to have in its system an abnormal level of a substance naturally occurring in a horse.

“A racehorse identified in Subsection A of this section shall be disqualified from racing until the commission takes action against the appropriate licensee pursuant to its adjudicatory authority.”

That’s as draconian a rule as has ever been proposed, to my knowledge, and this misguided effort to rein in drug abuse surely would end racing in the Land of Enchantment.

“The senator has every good intention,” said Morris Chavez, lobbyist for the New Mexico Horseman’s Association said of the proposed legislation, “but that’s one of the issues we are going to be addressing.”

New Mexico has been both a national embarrassment and a national leader in medication policy – if that’s possible. Racing at New Mexico tracks was a focal point of part one of the 2012 New York Times series, “Death and Disarray at America’s Racetracks.” New Mexico was ground zero for use of the performance-enhancing dermorphin, a powerful drug also known as “frog juice” that

in its natural state is derived from South American tree frog secretions. Cheating was epidemic. even in Quarter Horse racing’s biggest events.

Legislators and the New Mexico Racing Commission responded with tougher rules and harsh penalties in an attempt to crack down on the widespread abuse of both illegal and therapeutic drugs. It’s a virtual Wack-A-Mole game, however, with some owners – especially those in Quarter Horse racing – employing a revolving door for “program trainers” who are replaced as soon as they are caught with a drug positive, while the horses are often being drugged and conditioned by ruled-off trainers at off-site private facilities and shipped in to race.

In addition, trainers who fight the suspensions often find sympathetic judges in the court system that approve an injunction. permitting them to continue training for months and years as if nothing happened. That situation has been addressed legislatively, too.

Somewhere in between the status quo and Sanchez’s proposed legislation is where New Mexico needs to be relative to drug rules and horse racing. Clenbuterol continues to be a problem, particularly a compounded powdered variety mixed in water and known on the backstretch as “holy water.” And the controversial outcome  of the 2014 All American Futurity, where no prohibited drugs were detected in the winner, led Ruidoso Downs chairman R.D. Hubbard to adopt strict “house rules” that will require horses to be on the racetrack grounds and not ship in the day of the race.

But horses need medication for legitimate therapeutic and humane purposes. The bill proposed by Sanchez, who could not be reached for comment, would serve no purpose other than to end horse racing in New Mexico if veterinarians cannot treat horses with therapeutic drugs.

SB 366 was only recently introduced by Sanchez and has yet to have its first hearing. Lobbyist Chavez says there’s a long way to go before there is any cause for concern.

“We want to work with Sen. Sanchez to get the best possible bill available,” Chavez said. “We want the best possible language.” Chavez declined to elaborate on how the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association would like a final bill to read.

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