By: Dianne L. Stallings
Three purses from winners in the Rainbow Derby and Futurity races at Ruidoso Downs are being held pending the outcome of follow-up drug testing and resulting adjudication.
“I think the important thing to note for the public is that these are not narcotics or performance enhancing, these are mostly therapeutic drugs that are fairly common in any sporting activity,” Jeff True, president and general manager of Ruidoso Downs Race Track, said Thursday.
The tests involve the winner and second-place finisher of the Rainbow Derby July 21, with purses of $300,000 and $150,000; and the runner-up in the Rainbow Futurity, July 22, at about $200,000, True said.
Political Attraction, owned by Rogello Marquez Jr. and Kathy Robinson, and trained by Josue Ponce, won the Grade 1 quarter horse Rainbow Derby by one length over Jack Smith Farm’s Hes Limitless, trained by John Stinebaugh. Lethal Lil, owned by La Feliz Montana Ranch and trained by Joel Valeriano Jr. finished second in the Grade 1 Rainbow Futurity, according to reports.
In all three cases, trainers have asked for split samples.
Ismael “Izzy” Trejo, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, could not be reached for comment Friday about how long the process could take, but True explained the procedure.
The racing commission tests winners and possibly one or two others horses for each race. Those tests are sent out Monday morning after the weekend of racing. the lab receives them on Tuesday and does a basic screen of all the samples. if any come up with a potential positive, they are set aside while the rest are run and then checked for future testing, he said.
“We got news that further testing was being done on few samples from trials weekend, but because they were pending and we got this notice two days before the final event, there was no action being taken,” True said. “The following week after the finals, we got notice that the purses were being held for a certain number of horses that had competed the prior weekend, meaning the finals weekend, and those were held because of positive tests.
“They sent notice to the owners and trainers and gave them an opportunity to send off the samples for split testing,” essentially testing the other half of the original sample.
“The sample is separated into halves.The first goes to lab under the state’s direction and when it comes back positive, then the owners or trainers have an opportunity to send the other half to an accredited lab of their choosing in their defense,” True said.
Although he was not officially notified, he was informed “these drugs were therapeutic medications, not narcotics or performance enhancing.”
“The Association of Racing Commissioners International has classified all the different drugs used in horse racing,” he said. “Class 1 are things like narcotics that should never be in a horse. Class 2 are drugs that can be used in a horse, but certainly not on racing day, like pain killers or nerve agents. Class 3 and Class 4 are therapeutics, mild pain relievers or breathing aids, or something like a corticosteroid they might inject into a joint, knee or ankle. But some have threshold levels allowable on race day.”
Other horses also were tested that same weekend and showed up with therapeutic medication alerts, he said, adding, “It’s not an uncommon mistake, but obviously should not have been made in this case.”
Even if the drugs are therapeutic, “they still carry loss of purse, unless there are mitigating circumstances,” True said. While the offense may not be serious, the loss of a big money purse is to those involved, he said.
In these cases, he is told some mitigating circumstances exist.
“That I can’t get into,” True said. “I think the owners and trainers in these case have a bit of an argument and I will have to leave it to them to make that argument. The race track has little or nothing to do with this matter now. We leave it in the hands of the commission.
“We feel badly for the owners, trainees and riders, but the race was run fairly and I think therapeutic meds clouded the water a bit.”
If the split samples confirm the presence of the noted drugs, stewards will file complaints and schedule hearings. If the horses are disqualified and purse money is forfeited in the trial races, purses in the finals automatically are forfeited and redistributed, according to reports.
Over the months in preparation for this year’s racing season at Ruidoso Downs, True and other race track officials have emphasized improvement at the track to control narcotics and other abuses, including the use of drug-sniffing dogs, rules about keeping horses on-ground and building new pre-race receiving barns.
“Our enforcement efforts have been productive we think,” True said. “This has been a cleaner meet than we’ve had in the recent past, the horsemen tell us. The horses come back from racing in better shape. We’ve had fewer fatalities and catastrophic breakdowns. We’ve been told by those in the game, it is much better this year. I can’t claim responsibility for all that, but I have to think we had some deterrent effect. We can’t catch all of them. “