James Padgett II saddled the winner of last year's All American Futurity – Quarter horse racing's richest and most famous event held on Labor Day at Ruidoso Downs – but the American Quarter Horse Association's leading trainer by money won in 2017 has been told he will not be allowed to participate at the New Mexico racetrack when the 2018 meet begins on May 25.
Jeff True, president and general manager of All American Ruidoso Downs (AARD), which last October closed on a deal to purchase the track from R.D. Hubbard, recently sent a letter to Padgett saying he will be denied entry to the grounds and “from participating in any racing activities involved therein.”
Padgett is the former assistant to Judd Kearl, the AQHA's 2016 champion trainer who was handed a 19-year suspension by the Texas Racing Commission last year after five horses in his care tested positive for the Class 1 drug nomifensine – a human antidepressant medication taken off the market in the 1980s.
After Kearl was suspended in late July – one week after horses he trained won the $1-million Rainbow Derby and $1-million Rainbow Futurity at Ruidoso – Padgett took over many of the horses in the stable. With major victories by Fly Baby Fly in the All American Futurity, Hold Air Hostage in the All American Derby and eventual World Champion Jessies First Down in the All American Gold, Padgett finished the year with almost $3 million in earnings to lead all AQHA trainers. Kearl was second with nearly $2.9 million.
“This is special. I've had a lot of people along that way that put me in this position,” Padgett said after winning the All American Derby. “My mentor and old boss, Judd Kearl, helped me along the way and put me in the position where we could do our job and perform.”
Kearl and two other trainers suspended for nomifensine positives employed veterinarian Justin Robinson, according to Texas Racing Commission rulings, and all said they were not aware the drug was being administered to their horses.
In his exclusion letter to Padgett – a copy of which was obtained by the Paulick Report – True cited the racetrack's right to deny stall space and refuse entries to race “at any time for any reason or cause.”
“All American Ruidoso Downs has a responsibility to its patrons and participants to reach for the highest possible standards of performance and compliance,” True wrote, “and to maintain a safe, fair and impartial racing enterprise. We hold ourselves to those standards of ethical conduct to protect the interests, safety and welfare of all racing participants, including equine participants, and to create an environment of fairness for owners, trainers and customers. …
“As you are aware,” True's letter to Padgett continued, “Judd Kearl was suspended from horse training by the Texas Racing Commission after several horses in his care tested positive for prohibited substances. Additionally, the New Mexico Racing Commission has elected to honor the decision in New Mexico. It is commonly known based on 2017 activity that you were Mr. Kearl's assistant trainer, and that you remain closely associated to Mr. Kearl despite his horse doping convictions in Texas. … Accordingly, AARD has elected to deny your entry to the association grounds, and from participating in any racing activities involved therein.”
True told the Paulick Report it is possible other horsemen will receive similar letters notifying them they are not welcome at Ruidoso Downs.
“There's no question we have a problem in horse racing – specifically Quarter horse racing,” said True, an industry veteran who has held management positions with the Texas Quarter Horse Association, Los Alamitos, Youbet.com, United Tote and AmTote International. “We want to make this game as good as we can. These are painful but necessary steps. We have the opportunity and the right to say who can race here. The intended goal is a level playing field that is sustainable for the long term.”
True and the track's new owners are taking additional steps to improve the integrity of racing at Ruidoso Downs, including increased backstretch, perimeter and stable gate security, construction of a receiving barn where horses will assemble approximately 45 minutes before they race and allow additional surveillance. Trainers using private stables adjacent to the racetrack will have to be licensed and agree to the track's rules in order to participate, said True.
A new racetrack chaplaincy chapel is being built outside of the enclosed stable area, True said, that will permit residents of the village of Ruidoso to attend services without going into restricted areas as they have done in the past.
“We're going to continue the out-of-competition testing program that began last summer and recently hired a horseman's liaison who will be the track's representative in the enforcement of our compliance policy,” True said. While ship-ins will be permitted to race at Ruidoso Downs in overnight races, all stakes and time trial horses will be required to stable at the track for at least 10 days prior to their race – a policy that began last year.
In the meantime, the New Mexico Racing Commission has adopted rules that went into effect March 14 barring assistant trainers or employees from taking over a stable when a trainer is suspended for more than 30 days. The commission has also tightened rules in an attempt to eradicate the use of “program” trainers – licensed individuals whose names are listed on the program but are not the actual trainers of horses.
“The commission and the track are trying to do what's right,” said True. “We're doing our darnedest.”
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