SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico racing regulators will be able to test more horses for illegal drugs and can impose tougher sanctions for violations under legislation signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Susana Martinez.
One new law provides the State Racing Commission with an earmarked source of money — about $700,000 a year — for testing race horses. That's more than twice what the regulatory agency currently spends, according to Vince Mares, the commission's executive director.
The money will come from an existing tax on pari-mutuel wagering at horse racing tracks.
Another law will allow the commission to impose penalties up to $100,000, or the amount of a horse's winnings if that's greater, for violations of the state's racing rules, including those against the use of performance enhancing drugs. Civil penalties currently are limited to $10,000 for each violation.
The laws take effect June 14.
"We owe it to owners, jockeys, horses, and fans alike to ensure that everyone in the industry conducts themselves with integrity," Martinez said in a statement after signing the legislation in Las Cruces. "Anyone who endangers a horse or a jockey should face stiff penalties."
The regulatory changes came after a New York Times investigation last year highlighted drug use in the horse racing industry as well as horse deaths and jockey injuries at tracks across the nation, including in New Mexico.
The commission last year adopted new standards governing the drugs that can be administered to horses. One of the measures signed by the governor will ensure that those standards remain tied to national guidelines set by The Association of Racing Commissioners International and will require use of testing labs that meet the association's guidelines.
By imposing those requirements in state law, Mares said, New Mexico's racing regulators can't retreat from those in the future.
"We want to make sure the Racing Commission remains accountable to stay within the high standards of the industry as far as testing," said Mares.
The commission spends an average of about $300,000 a year on testing, he said. With additional money, regulators will test more horses in each race and will do out-of-competition testing in which horses are tested weeks ahead of a race to try to ensure that drugs weren't administered during training. The commission also will be able to pay for necropsies of horses that are fatally injured in races to determine whether illegal drugs played a role in the animal's death.
Under current law, it's a felony to administer performance enhancing drugs to a race horse and the commission has the power to ban horse owners, trainers or a horse from racing on a New Mexico track. The commission last year suspended a horse trainer from racing in the state for 21 years and imposed $23,000 in fines after several horses tested positive for a powerful painkiller.
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