What was the tipping point for R.D. Hubbard?
The chairman of Ruidoso Downs racetrack in New Mexico – also a well-known player in the Thoroughbred industry – on Tuesday announced tough, new rules to crack down on cheaters, saying he will “not stand idly by and watch anyone attempt to ruin the sport.”
Was it Labor Day in 2010, when he saw a member of Mexico's drug cartel family in the winner's circle as the owner of Mr Piloto, winner of the All American Futurity, Quarter horse racing's signature race? A cartel member later said in a sworn affidavit that the stating gate crew was bribed to help the horse win, a charge track officials vehemently denied.
Was it having his track on the front page of the New York Times in March 2012 as the poster child of what's wrong with horseracing in the first article in the paper's critical series, “Death and Disarray at America's racetracks”?
Did the dermorphin epidemic of 2012 – when eight of 25 Ruidoso Futurity Trial winners tested positive for the powerful and illegal Class 1 drug – prompt any action?
How about last year, when 2013 Ruidoso Futurity winner Cartel Quick mysteriously died of kidney failure 24 hours after his victory?
Or was it this year's $2.6 million All American Futurity, won by a horse named JM Miracle? The circumstances leading up to and following the race certainly were unusual, to say the least.
JM Miracle is owned by Javier and Elsa Marquez's J & M Racing, which previously employed a trainer named Roberto Sanchez. That's the same Roberto Sanchez who was suspended 20 years by the Oklahoma Horse Racing Commission after 10 of his horses tested positive for the powerful and illegal painkiller dermorphin at Remington Park in April and May of 2012. (The suspension, originally set at 100 years, was reduced by the commission.) Sanchez's brother, Alejandro Sanchez, received the same penalty, as assistant trainer for the 10 horses.
JM Miracle's victory on the track was not without controversy. The horse was in distress after pulling up past the finish and could not make it back to the winner's circle. A winning stablemate suffered the same fate in an earlier race that day. Both horses were pronounced in good health the following morning.
In the days after JM Miracle's victory, a photograph of two men in the Ruidoso Downs stable area celebrating with the All American Futurity trophy was circulated among people in the Quarter Horse world. Several sources contacted the Paulick Report saying the two men were the Sanchez brothers, who, under the traditional terms of a license suspension, would not be permitted in the stable area of a racetrack in any U.S. jurisdiction.
If it was Roberto and Alejandro Sanchez in that photograph, why would they be posing with the All American Futurity trophy?
Some in the Quarter horse racing community suspect that, because JM Miracle was not stabled at Ruidoso Downs, he may have been trained by someone other than Umberto Belloc. Prior to the All American, Belloc had never won a stakes race in four years as a trainer, according to the American Quarter Horse Association. This year he managed to qualify two of the 10 starters in the sport's most prestigious race.
One veteran conditioner who spoke to the Paulick Report under the condition of anonymity said JM Miracle was shipped back and forth from Ruidoso to a farm operated by the Sanchez brothers in Anthony, N.M., just north of El Paso, Texas. The same source suggested the brothers trained the horse at a nearby training center owned by Cynthia Dick. Not true, said Dick, who told the Paulick Report JM Miracle was boarded at her facility prior to the All American but was trained by Belloc – not by Roberto or Alejandro Sanchez.
Vince Mares, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, confirmed that he's seen the picture. “It's pretty disturbing that they are holding the trophy,” Mares said. “We are going to look into it.”
The purse for the All American Futurity was released last Friday after extensive post-race testing – conducted at the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Analytical Laboratory at the University of California in Davis – failed to detect any prohibited drugs. “I even had it tested for cobalt,” Mares said.
Mares added that Ruidoso Downs security is responsible for checking licenses and keeping undesirables out of the stable area.
Mares enlisted extra security for the All American Futurity and Derby Trials at Ruidoso Aug. 14-16, bringing in as many as 15 investigators from other racing jurisdictions. Veterinary trucks and trailers were searched and a number of compounded or non-FDA approved products were said to be seized or photographed for further evalution.
During the course of the trials, a Los Alamitos-based jockey, Raul Valenzuela, was allegedly caught with an electrical device, or buzzer, after a race. Valenzuela was summarily suspended by stewards, but it appeared he would ride in the All American after an attorney got him a stay of that suspension in district court. Shortly before the big race, however, Valenzuela was arrested and charged with a pair of fourth-degree felonies.
Next year, under the new rules established by Hubbard and Ruidoso Downs, will be different.
We can only hope.
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