Thursday, May 03, 2012
The New Mexico Racing Commission on Wednesday held a meeting to discuss the adoption of model regulations developed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.
The commission heard comments and questions from various industry stakeholders – including horsemen and track executives – during the 1 1/2-hour meeting, which was held at the commission headquarters in Albuquerque. No one spoke out against the proposed reforms.
Commission chairman Rob Doughty III emphasized that the purpose of the meeting was not to pass rule changes, but rather to get input from industry stakeholders and the general public. He said that information gathered would be discussed in depth at meetings of the commission's medication and rules committees, which are scheduled for May 23.
Wednesday's meeting was scheduled after a report in the March 24 edition of the New York Times claimed that New Mexico tracks had the worst safety record in the United States. When the commission announced the scheduling of the meeting, Doughty said that it is important for New Mexico to have consistent rules and standards that are enforced at all five of the state's tracks.
“I think this (meeting) is a great first step for New Mexico in really cracking down on abuse of illegal substances in racehorses in New Mexico,” Doughty said. “If we can toughen penalties, that will make a statement that the state of New Mexico does not allow cheaters.”
Based in Lexington, Kentucky, the ARCI is composed of the government regulators of horse and greyhound racing in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Jamaica, and Trinidad & Tobago. According to its website (www.arci.com), its members are charged with the responsibility to ensure the integrity of racing and pari-mutuel wagering.
The ARCI model rules have been developed over decades with input from industry stakeholders. The rules set standards for many facets of racing, from the conduct of races and licensing to veterinary care and testing for illegal substances in race animals.
The model rules committee meets periodically to consider proposals that have been submitted or to address matters referred to by regulatory members. The ARCI's goal is adoption of the model rules by all racing regulatory jurisdictions to provide uniform standards and regulation, though no jurisdiction has currently adopted all of the model rules.
The New Mexico Racing Commission is currently not a member of ARCI, but NMRC executive director Vince Mares said he anticipates it will be “by the end of the summer.” He added that the commission is working with the state's racetracks to help with the cost of membership, which he said is $11,000 annually.
One of the meeting attendees, Penn National Gaming Incorporated vice president of racing Chris McErlean, praised the commission for its proactive stance. PNGI is the owner of several racetracks and casinos throughout North America, including Zia Park Racetrack and its Black Gold Casino in Hobbs, New Mexico.
“We think this is a great first step,” said McErlean, who added that PNGI has a code of conduct that is distributed to horsemen at all of its racetracks. The code of conduct can be accessed at PNGI's website (www.pngaming.com), and its existence is mentioned on its stall applications and in its condition books.
“We plan to be more vigilant and aggressive with regard to enforcing our code of conduct at Zia Park,” McErlean said. “We're not afraid to enforce our rules at any of our tracks, but we like the racing commissions to be the first line of defense.”
Ken Corraza, an Albuquerque pharmacist, racehorse owner, and a former commission member, said that it was time for the racing industry in New Mexico to “change the status quo,” and he added that Wednesday's meeting was a good start.
“We need to do something to change the public perception of racing in our state,” Corraza said. “The perception of the public is that if a person can cheat a little bit, they'll cheat a lot. We need better penalty enforcement, and the penalties must fit the crimes.
“The New York Times story cast a dark light on our industry, but what is sad is that we have a lot of good trainers, and good, honest people in our industry,” he added. “People need to know that we are concerned about the welfare of our horses. The racing industry in New Mexico is a good industry, and we need to do what we can to protect it.”