By: Ray Paulick
On Sunday at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico, trainer Josue Ponce sent out four runners in trial races for the rich All American Quarter Horse Derby. All four starters won, with three of the winners among the 10 fastest times, qualifying them for the Sept. 2 finals of the Grade 1, $1,237,604 fixture run over 440 yards.
On Monday, Ponce received a letter from Jeff True, president and general manager of All American Ruidoso Downs, LLC – the track’s owner – telling him he was no longer welcome to stable or race horses there for the balance of the 2018 meeting.
True told the Paulick Report that two of the four horses saddled by Ponce were vanned off the racetrack after their trial race and that the other two were “in distress” and required immediate attention.
Only one other horse competing in the 11 trials on Sunday was in distress immediately following the races, True said.
“We thought the care of those horses was not up to professional standards,” True said. “They had been under Mr. Ponce’s care for a couple of months at Ruidoso, and their inability to return to the winner’s circle made us think something was going on there.”
Citing New Mexico statute and the Ruidoso Downs stall application and condition books, True in his letter to Ponce said Ruidoso Downs reserves the right to cancel stable space, prohibit participation and eject or exclude participants.
“The decisions to exclude your further participation from racing at Ruidoso are due to the apparent inhumane treatment of the horses under your care,” reads True’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Paulick Report. “Horses under your care demonstrated that they were unfit to complete the race and return to the winners’ enclosure reflecting a lack of conditioning or some other mistreatment which puts them and all other horses and jockeys competing with them at risk of catastrophic injury.
“(All American Ruidoso Downs) is taking this action to protect the horses and riders competing at its facility from negligence or mistreatment by trainers, grooms, jockeys, or others on its property or competing in races here. The racing public, track management, and regulatory authorities expect horses to be treated and raced under humane and safe conditions and the performance of your horses on Sunday, August 19th, reflect negligence, a failure to prepare them adequately, or indicate some other improper treatment prior to the races.”
All of Ponce’s horses must be transferred to other trainers and will remain eligible to race in the All American Derby finals and other races, said True, adding that they will be placed under surveillance. On Monday, the four Derby trial winners were reported to True to be “in good shape” by an attending veterinarian.
Ponce-trained Dashnunder Afullmoon recorded the fastest time of the Derby trials, :21.31, winning by one length as the even-money favorite. The Heza Fast Dash filly is owned by Rogelio Marquez Jr. Dashnunder Afullmoon has had five different trainers in her last six starts.
Fast Prize Rumor, who was vanned off after his victory, qualified for the Derby finals for owner Jose Ernesto Guzman. Ponce was the Hez Our Secret gelding’s fifth trainer in his last nine starts. Pyc Fun N Fancy, racing for Jose Ernesto Guzman and Rita Sosa, also qualified for the finals. Ponce was the third trainer in six starts for the colt by Pyc Paint Your Wagon. The other Ponce runner vanned off, Believe Me Irene, is owned by Diamond Racing Stables. The Valiant Hero filly did not qualify for the finals. She has had three trainers in her last five starts.
Ponce has won eight races from 16 starts during the current Ruidoso Downs meet since July 6 and 98 of 400 career starts since 2013. Included in his 2018 resume is a win by Political Attraction in the Grade 1, $801,564 Rainbow Derby for Rogelio Marquez Jr. and Kathy Robinson. The purse for that July 21 race, however, is currently on hold because a post-race test was flagged for an overage of a Class 4 drug. A split sample has not yet been returned to the New Mexico Racing Commission in confirmatory testing.