ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The horse racing industry Wednesday lined up behind a proposal to adopt tougher oversight and penalties at the state's tracks, which were recently identified as having the worst safety record in the nation.
Horse and track owners and a jockey's union were among those who spoke in support of a New Mexico Racing Commission proposal to adopt model regulations developed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International. The ARCI rules set standards for issues like the conduct of races, licensing of veterinary care, and testing for illegal substances in race animals.
No one spoke against the reforms.
The meeting focused on penalties and restrictions for the illegal doping of horses, but Commission Chairman Rob Doughty said it is just "the first step in a long series of reforms" the commission would like to make "to send a message that the state of New Mexico does not allow cheaters."
The move comes after a New York Times story described New Mexico as having the worst horse safety record in the United States. The newspaper blamed lax regulations for the poor record.
Laura Bonar, program director for Animal Protection of New Mexico, said the proposal is a good first step, but emphasized that change needs to be implemented quickly to address what she described as horrific and chronic issues with safety and integrity at the tracks.
Ken Corraza, a pharmacist and former commission member, told the panel it's time to change the status quo, but emphasized the industry is "not bloodthirsty" or unconcerned about the horses and the riders.
"The New York Times article cast a dark shadow on the industry," he said. "But we have really good people. We have honest people. There are just a few thugs out there that have changed the perception here in New Mexico."
Although the commission said it wants to join ARCI and move toward more uniform, consistent national standards, it is initially focused on penalties for illegal doping under the ARCI rules.
One key change is that horse owners could, for the first time, be held responsible for the actions of trainers. Also under the proposed rules, violations by trainers and owners in other states could be considered under rules that set penalties based on the number of previous offenses.
The proposed rules now go to hearings before the commission's medication and rules committees on May 23 before being considered for adoption by the full commission on June 23.