Texas Jockey Roman Chapa's Use of a Buzzer Unveils a Shocking Practice in Racing
BY DIANNA WRAY
None of this would have happened if the Sam Houston Race Park track photographer hadn't been shooting from the inside rail. The $50,000 Richard King Turf Stakes on January 17 was the ninth race of the night, the eighth that jockey Roman Chapa had competed in since the start of the meet at Sam Houston Race Park the night before. Quiet Acceleration, a 6-year-old thoroughbred owned by Texas trainer Danny Pish, was running toward the middle of the pack, boxed in by the rest of the field. The dark bay gelding hovered in fifth place as the riders headed down the backstretch, surrounded by pounding hooves and the cries of jockeys urging on their horses.
A fight for the lead between the top two contenders, Special U F O and favorite Magna Breeze, grabbed the crowd's attention. Chapa, a top Texas jockey with more than 20 years of riding experience, maneuvered Quiet Acceleration so the horse was on the outside as they headed for the finish line. Another horse, Fly the Red Eye, gave a late charge, taking the lead.
After winning the Richard King Turf Stakes by half a length aboard thoroughbred Quiet Acceleration, jockey Roman Chapa paused outside the winner's circle to celebrate.
Nobody was watching Quiet Acceleration's trip until he shot forward in a burst of speed that took him to first place just as they hit the wire about a half a length in the lead. In that instant, track photographer Jack Coady got a shot of Chapa and the Texas-bred horse, both in good form. The jockey was leaning forward and crouching low in the saddle, and Quiet Acceleration was running with his ears pinned back, powerful neck muscles straining and rippling beneath his smooth espresso coat.
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The race was so close that Sam Houston Race Park stewards called for a photo-finish using the park's computerized finish-line photo and video system, installed years before to record official results in close races. Coady, whom track officials used to rely upon for such official results in the pre-digital age, took his own finish-line photos, which he sells to Sam Houston Race Park and distributes to the media on behalf of the track. While the crowd waited for a decision, the stewards reviewed those final seconds of the race footage shot on a digital camera mounted just above the stewards' box on the right side of the track.
Chapa and his horse took a trip around the track, the horse shaking his head, still running ahead of the pack. A track outrider rode up and helped Chapa slow the horse. The jockey grinned and chatted while they waited for the results.
The stewards declared Chapa the winner, and the 43-year-old jockey, a wiry man at 5 feet 6 inches tall and 112 pounds, pulled his horse up to the winner's circle. Pish and his wife, Sabina, were already waiting on the track. Chapa clasped the trainer's hand and Pish thumped Chapa on the back, both of them grinning. After losing his previous five races under different jockeys, the horse was once again a winner under Chapa. It was Pish's second win of the night and Chapa's third. Pish turned and gave Quiet Acceleration, a distant descendant of fabled Secretariat, a gentle pat.
Pish and Sabina filed into the winner's circle, but Chapa paused for a moment. That morning he'd written a post on Facebook, a prayer asking for the strength to let go and trust God in his day's endeavors. Now Chapa stopped the horse outside the white-fenced winner's circle and held out his arms, palms up, hands empty. He tipped his head back, his thin, angular face beatific as he gazed up at the night sky. Cameras flashed, the moment ended and he entered the winner's circle. Sabina kissed the horse on his nose before they all grouped together for the photo. Coady snapped a picture of the winning team.
It would have been perfect, an officially flawless ride, if Coady hadn't taken his own finish-line photo from the left side. Coady's photo showed everything: the horse's face; Chapa's small, tight grin; the reins in his hands; and a small object, unmistakably a buzzer, clutched in his left palm. Without the photo, no one would ever have known that the reason the horse surged forward — ears back, eyes rolled and showing the whites — was that the jockey had just pressed the battery-powered device against the horse's neck, sending an electric shock, sometimes as powerful as that of a Taser, into the animal. The buzzer, also known in the horse-racing world as a "joint" or a "machine," is a small device about the size of a cigarette lighter that has been strictly banned from horse racing by every state racing commission in the country.
The photo was posted on Sam Houston Race Park's website that night alongside a recap of the day's races. On Sunday, Chapa started calling and texting Coady, urging the longtime track photographer to take it down because it was "a bad photo," according to court records. Coady explained he was a contractor and had no control over the website, but Chapa kept calling.
Coady won't comment specifically on Chapa's case, but he says it's extremely unusual for a jockey or trainer to talk with him about a photo. As a photographer, Coady is there to document, not judge. He says he's never seen a buzzer used on a horse, but he also admits he stays neutral on everything he shoots, rarely even giving compliments. "If the stewards spot something and they want to look at the photos, they can, but personally I'd never say anything."
Despite Chapa's efforts, it was too late. Word of the photo began spreading through the tightknit racing world almost as soon as it was posted online. Famed turf writer Ray Paulick, a reporter who has been covering horse racing since the 1970s and is the founder of the Paulick Report, one of the top news sites for racing, got a tip on Saturday night to check out the photo on the race park's website. Whenever Sam Houston holds a meet, Coady sends finish-line photos of every stakes race to Paulick, The Blood-Horse and other horse-racing publications once the races are done for the night. He'd already sent the photos for Sam Houston's January 17 races to Paulick.
Paulick sifted through the night's take and found the photo. He was attending the Eclipse Awards, horse racing's version of the Oscars, and all the top names in the industry were staying in the same Florida hotel. Once Paulick had pulled up the photo and enlarged it on his iPad so he could see Chapa's left hand, he showed it to a few members of the Jockeys' Guild to get their opinion. "Here's the funny thing about it," Paulick says now. "Everybody I showed the photo to saw it immediately and just said, 'Uh-oh.' With everybody who saw the photo that night, that was the universal response."
Paulick didn't have any personal numbers for Sam Houston stewards or the Texas Racing Commission, so he called Penn National Gaming, the company that owns Sam Houston, alerting its officials about the photo. Sunday morning, Sam Houston Race Park President Andrea Young quickly called him back and confirmed Sam Houston was investigating the race, and Paulick decided he had enough to publish the story. Texas Department of Public Safety investigator Jeffrey Green was looking into the case by Monday, January 19. Before the end of the week, Green brought the case of unlawful influence on racing, a third-degree felony, to the Harris County District Attorney's Office and Chapa was facing a hearing before the Texas Racing Commission and criminal charges.
After the story broke, it was covered by local and national media — including ABC World News Tonight, the New York Daily News, People magazine and ESPN — as well as foreign publications such as the Daily Mirror and the Daily Mail. Chapa has been one of the premier jockeys on the Texas scene for years, but even Texas Racing Commission officials were surprised by the frenzy of interest, spokesman Robert Elrod says.
Paulick wasn't surprised, though. "The public's attitude has changed dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years when it comes to horse racing, and the public is not willing to accept any kind of cruelty to these horses, and they shouldn't," Paulick says. "Horses are giving everything they have when they're running. When a horse is giving everything he has and he gets an electric jolt, that's really not fair or right."
In the wake of the scandal, Chapa has been banned from racing in Texas, given a $100,000 fine and indicted by a Harris County grand jury on unlawful influence of a horse race and lying to a Texas Racing Commission investigator. At the time of the investigation, Chapa denied contacting Coady about the photo and claimed it had been altered to look incriminating.
Some in horse racing swear buzzers are a rarity, a problem with jockeys at lower-level racetracks but an issue that doesn't touch the best in the industry. Others admit certain jockeys are known for using buzzers and it's an ugly but difficult-to-eliminate practice. Either way, jockeys are seldom caught and almost always suspended when that happens.
But Harris County has rarely filed criminal charges against a jockey for allegedly using a buzzer to influence a horse race, Harris County district attorney spokesman Jeff McShan says. Chapa became the first in at least the past 10 years.
As it turns out, this isn't new for Chapa. Not only do racetrack insiders say he was known for doing this, but he'd even been caught and prosecuted before. We tried repeatedly to contact Chapa through his criminal lawyer, Angus McGinty; his Texas Racing Commission lawyer, Paul Vick; and his agent, Toby Cathey, but received no response.
In 1995, Chapa was indicted for illegal influence of a race outcome in Gillespie County, Texas, for using a nail on the horse he had ridden the year before while he was still an apprentice jockey. He pleaded guilty and was put on probation. In 2007, he was caught with a buzzer on a New Mexico racetrack and was banned from racing, only to be reinstated later.
As a matter of fact, Chapa shouldn't have even been racing in Houston on January 17. He was still on suspension, placed there on December 21, 2014, according to the New Mexico racing record, for failing to pay a $100 fine for reckless riding the previous August.
Chapa should have been barred from riding at every track in the country. Instead, he was aboard Quiet Acceleration, making history in a different way than he'd imagined.
Quiet Acceleration's owner and trainer Danny Pish, wife Sabina Pish and their longtime friend Roman Chapa posed with the 6-year-old gelding in the winner's circle after racing stewards ruled the horse won.
Roman Chapa started riding in Texas as an apprentice jockey in 1993 when he was 22. He arrived on the scene just as the Texas thoroughbred horse-racing industry was being revived after a 50-year ban on pari-mutuel wagering — a type of betting in which people bet against each other and not the house — on horse races in the state. Decades before, Texas legislators had briefly legalized horse racing in 1933 to pull in some money during the Great Depression, but they swiftly banned it again in 1937. In the following years, occasional attempts at bringing back horse racing were defeated, usually because of the vehement opposition of Baptists.
But in 1987, Texas voters approved a referendum legalizing pari-mutuel betting and establishing the Texas Racing Commission to govern the reborn racing industry. The state allowed three Class 1 tracks to be built in the most heavily populated counties in Texas. Sam Houston Race Track sprang up in Harris County, opening in 1994. Lone Star Park was built near Dallas and Retama Park went up near San Antonio.
Chapa started off as an apprentice jockey riding quarter horses at lower-level tracks. Within a year after he got his first Texas racing license, he was caught influencing a race, according to Texas Racing Commission records. A jockey gets paid if he's riding, but if he doesn't win, it's a flat riding fee, usually between $50 and $100 per race. It's possible to cobble together a living by supplementing these riding fees with work as an exercise rider or other work on the backside of the track, but it's difficult to get by this way. However, if a jockey wins a race, he gets 10 percent of the purse. "It's huge, a totally different lifestyle when you're winning," one former jockey says. "That's why some guys will look at [a buzzer] and think it's worth the risk."
While still an apprentice jockey in 1994, Chapa was riding Silver Sixes, a quarter horse running in a qualifying race at Gillespie County Fair, a racetrack that is more than a century old and was grandfathered into the Texas Racing Act. After the race, it was discovered he'd wrapped a nail in tape so he could hold it during the race, and he used the nail to prod the horse to get him to run faster. Most horses react to nails the same way they react to buzzers, responding to the pain by running faster. Nails are also strictly banned in horse racing. When the racing stewards asked why he had cheated, Chapa said he did it because he needed the purse money.
He was banned from racing for nine months and fined $2,500 by the Texas Racing Commission. Gillespie County subsequently filed charges against the jockey for unlawful influence of a race. He made a plea deal in March 1995 and was on probation for five years. His racing license was reinstated within nine months of the incident, though he remained on probation with the racing commission for a year.
Despite the Gillespie County incident, Chapa became a fixture on the Texas riding circuit once it was established. He and Pish met during those early years. Pish grew up in Yoakum, and he started out on the rodeo circuit, but he fell in love with horse racing. In 1995, he saddled his first winner. Chapa started riding for Pish in the 1990s, and the two became close friends, according to a 2012 story from the Paulick Report. Chapa even credited Pish with getting him back in the saddle after a racing accident.
In September 1999, Chapa was riding a 2-year-old in a maiden race at Retama Park when his horse clipped heels with another horse and went down, sending Chapa bouncing to the turf, spitting blood into the dirt. During surgery that night, Chapa stopped breathing on the operating table. He was revived, but he lost a kidney and was hospitalized for a month. Doctors told him he might not be able to ride for a year, but Pish encouraged Chapa. In January 2000, Chapa rode his first race since the accident aboard Pish's horse, Boots on Sunday, at Sam Houston Race Park. "I knew right there. This is me. I'm supposed to ride. I'm not supposed to do anything else but ride. It was a wicked feeling, an unbelievable high. I'm a rider," Chapa told the San Antonio Express-News. He still lists Boots on Sunday as his favorite mount.
Chapa rode hard and aggressively, and he won a lot of races, claiming first place more than 1,700 times and placing second or third more than 2,700 times out of a total of 10,179 races, as well as earning more than $25 million to date. He became one of the top 50 jockeys in the country in 2000, and was ranked among the top 25 jockeys in 2004, according to Equibase. Things were going so well for Chapa, he even got a license to race in Kentucky.
But he tended to get into trouble for reckless riding, swearing, fighting in the jockey room and other infractions, racking up a handful of violations in Louisiana and having more than 40 rulings issued against him in Texas over the course of his career. New Mexico Racing Commission records reflect only a few rulings issued after 2008. In 2001, a Harris County sheriff's deputy responded to a call in Humble about a man reportedly beating a brown boxer dog with a leather strap. Chapa was charged on one felony count of cruelty to animals, but he pleaded guilty to a lesser offense and served 10 days in jail. After he pled guilty, the Texas Racing Commission put him on probation for a year.
By 2000, Texas racing was in its new ascendancy. Huge crowds showed up to bet at the tracks, and the large purses drew the best trainers and the best horses to run in the state. Incentive programs encouraged trainers to breed horses in Texas, and the better horses and larger purses attracted more skilled jockeys. In 2004, Lone Star Park hosted the Breeders' Cup, one of the most important races in the industry.
Nobody knew it then, but hosting the Breeders' Cup was the pinnacle achievement of Texas racing, the day that the greatest jockeys, trainers and horses in the country converged on Lone Star. In the decade since, Texas racing has declined dramatically while Louisiana, Oklahoma and New Mexico have been able to offer better breeding incentive programs for horse races and larger-stakes race purses, bolstered by casino money in their states.
In Texas, this means the three licensed Class 1 race parks — all trying to boost their attendance — can offer either fewer race days and larger purses to get the better horses and trainers to come, or more race days and smaller purses. Texas trainers always want more race days, but that wouldn't attract the top-tier horses that are more likely to pull in large audiences. "We have a fantastic track here, but we can't get the great horses," Young says of Sam Houston. "The purses aren't large enough to bring in the best competition. You'll never see California Chrome running at Sam Houston. We can't offer enough to get a horse like that."
For Chapa to get caught and for his story to draw international attention was the last thing the Texas horse-racing industry needed. Not that there hadn't been warning signs.
In 2007, Chapa was caught with a buzzer in a New Mexico horse race and abruptly found himself banned from racing in that state or at any other licensed racetrack in the country. Chapa then galloped horses on a Texas farm, but it's unclear what else he did for a living during his suspension. In 2011, he filed an appeal to have his suspension lifted early. Chapa testified before the New Mexico Racing Commission, producing 15 letters of support. Pish wrote one of the letters vouching for him. The commission agreed to allow Chapa a probationary license as long as he showed up at every New Mexico meet, whether he was riding or not, to give a talk about why buzzers are bad for horse racing.
After New Mexico reinstated him, Chapa asked the Texas Racing Commission to grant him a new license. Andrea Young had just started her new job as president of Sam Houston Race Park, and it was one of her first meetings with the Texas Racing Commission. Chapa pleaded his case, swearing he had changed. Young was moved by his passion and the regret he expressed. "He said he'd done bad, and he asked if we would let him back, and we did. I thought it was heartfelt," she says now. The commission voted to grant him a new Texas license.
Once Chapa got his license back, he started riding for all the top Texas trainers again, including Pish. Chapa was Quiet Acceleration's jockey during the thoroughbred's maiden race in 2011. Pish has declined to comment for this story, but in January he told the Daily Mail that he was shocked and hurt by the allegations Chapa had used a buzzer on his horse. Despite his three decades in the industry, Pish insisted he has never even seen a buzzer and would never condone one being used.
Even though the trainer knew Chapa had a record, he said he never dreamed Chapa would use a buzzer while riding for him. "This has been really painful to me and my family," he said. "I had no idea about any of this until the photo came out. I felt total disbelief; I just can't believe it's true."
Other insiders, who didn't want to be named for this article, had no trouble believing Chapa had cut corners. Despite Chapa's public and repeated claims that he has reformed, his reputation hasn't changed, racing insiders say. "I wasn't shocked when I heard," one former jockey says. "I doubt any trainer or jockey anywhere near that race was shocked when they saw that Chapa had used a buzzer, because he's known as someone who's willing to do that."
Buzzers have been a problem in the industry for decades. They've been around so long that no one is entirely sure when they arrived on the scene. The machines are crafted and sold on the black market, going for about $100 on the street, Harris County Assistant District Attorney Courtney Chester says.
While Frankie Lovato Jr. was working his way up as an apprentice jockey, he says, trainers would occasionally ask him to use a buzzer. Great jockeys use everything they have — the energy, the hands, the voice, the whip — to communicate on a level where they're one with the horse, Lovato says. Having a buzzer compromises a jockey's ability to ride, because he's not focused on the horse, he adds. "When you're using a machine, all that communication goes to hell because you've got to hold it and hide it so you can't use all of your skills to really connect and be with that horse."
The person carrying the buzzer is the only one legally liable if he's caught with it, according to the Texas Racing Commission. Sometimes racing stewards have been lenient after catching a jockey with a machine, but at other times they have imposed stiff penalties. In 1988, Illinois racing stewards received a tip that jockey Geary Louviere was riding with a buzzer. The stewards filmed Louviere in the race, then marched over to him afterward and ordered him to unbutton his pants. The buzzer fell to the ground. Louviere was suspended from Illinois racing for "the rest of his natural life." The following year, jockey Jorge Aragon was riding in Washington state when he was spotted tossing something onto the track after a race. The Washington racing stewards gave him a 25-year suspension — basically a career-ender.
Still, buzzer scandals can do a lot of damage to everyone involved. Texas trainer Dallas Keen worked with a horse named Valhol that he thought had potential. Keen says he has always been particular about which jockeys ride his horses. "The way we teach racing is we have to make them like it. They have to be fit first; then you introduce them to the pleasure of speed. Once you've introduced speed, you want to make sure you never let them go too far. The trick is you let them run so they love it, but you never let them go beyond what they can do. You never throw them to the wolves," Keen says.
Using a machine on a horse alters the way it looks at running because it's running from pain or fear, Keen says. He and his wife, Donna, set up a nonprofit organization for retired racehorses a few years ago, Remember Me Rescue. Sometimes Keen gets an animal that clearly spent his racing career as a "machine horse." "It ruins them," he says. "Some horses won't run until they get hit with a machine, and then sometimes you get the ones that get sour and they won't run at all."
While Keen was training Valhol, the horse clicked with a Louisiana jockey named Billy Patin. Patin was known as a guy who used machines, but Patin saw Valhol's potential from the first time he rode him, so Keen decided to let the jockey ride in the Arkansas Derby in April 1999. "I told him that I'd heard about him but there weren't to be any machines near this horse," Keen says now. Patin agreed, and Valhol scored a surprise win that qualified them for the Kentucky Derby. "I've never understood it. Billy loved that horse, and Valhol wasn't a machine horse. He loved to run."
The victory was short-lived. Someone spotted Patin dropping something on the track, and stewards found a buzzer. Patin was suspended and fined by the Arkansas Racing Commission, and Valhol was banned from the Kentucky Derby. Keen and owner Jim Jackson fought the Kentucky Racing Commission ruling, and a judge found that Valhol should be allowed to enter the race. The horse ran but under a different jockey, and placed 15th. "It was a bad deal," Keen says now. "I was at the height of my career and doing very well, and it hurt me bad over something a jockey did. Jim stayed with me, but a lot of people didn't because of that."
Keen's career never entirely recovered from the Arkansas Derby scandal, he says, but he learned to be cautious about his associations. Chapa has ridden for him only a few times. "With certain people in the industry you hear things, and I'd heard things about Chapa. I also saw him in a paddock after a race with something in his hand, saw it with my own eyes, and I wanted nothing to do with him."
Chapa's name also came up in connection with a buzzer in a video released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The video was a highly edited version of hours of footage collected by a woman who worked as a groom at one of the barns of Texas-based trainer Steve Asmussen. Asmussen wasn't in the video, but his assistant trainer Scott Blasi was, along with famed jockey Gary Stevens and trainer D. Wayne Lukas. The trio was at dinner telling stories about their early racing days. In the video, Blasi talked about one incident in which Chapa, who has ridden more than 1,000 races for Asmussen, stuck a machine in his mouth to avoid getting caught. "That silly-ass Roman Chapa put it in his mouth in New Mexico," Blasi said on the video. "They came in to shake him down, he stuck it in his mouth, then he spit it out in his wash bucket."
Asmussen's name was scratched from the 2014 Hall of Fame ballot after the story broke, and PETA's claims prompted a yearlong investigation by the Kentucky Racing Commission and a 200-page report issued in March 2015. The report states that Asmussen, Blasi, Stevens and Lukas were cleared of the buzzer allegations. Asmussen is currently the winningest trainer in the country and has saddled more than 7,000 winners. The Houston Press repeatedly tried to contact Asmussen for comment but received no response. Stevens, Lukas, Blasi and Asmussen were all interviewed about buzzers, but it ended there because the incidents they talked about happened years ago and didn't occur in Kentucky, according to Kentucky Racing Commission spokesman Dick Brown. Investigators never talked to Chapa because he registered in Kentucky only once and never raced there, according to KRC records, Brown says.
On January 17, 2015, Chapa was riding for Asmussen again in one of his three winning races that night at Sam Houston.
Acting on a tip, turf reporter Ray Paulick broke the story on January 18 that a photo shot by track photographer Jack Coady showed jockey Roman Chapa holding a buzzer. Paulick says the use of buzzers has been a pervasive problem in the sport for decades.
Chapa shuffled out to face the judge in the 176th Harris County District Court on March 18. He'd arrived at the courthouse that morning for his arraignment on the third-degree felony charge of unlawful influence of a race, and was promptly arrested, handcuffed and charged with a state felony for lying to Texas Racing Commission officials during an investigation when he claimed he had never tried to contact Coady about the photo even though Coady's phone log showed repeated calls and texts from Chapa's cell phone.
The jockey stood before the judge, his sharp-cornered face unshaven, the hard lines fuzzed by a gray-brown scruff of beard. The judge spoke quietly to Chapa and his lawyer for a few minutes, then Chapa was ushered out. He was released on a $10,000 bond the next day. His arraignment for the second charge was scheduled for May 6. He hasn't been legally authorized to race since stewards initially suspended him on January 18.
Chapa has had suspensions and rulings against him in Louisiana, Texas and New Mexico over the course of his career, but he has always been allowed to come back and ride. There's no federal oversight of the racing community, and no one is eager to claim responsibility for Chapa's long, checkered career. "Just because we reinstated him doesn't make us culpable for what he does after," Vince Mares, executive director of the New Mexico Racing Commission, says. The Texas Racing Commission won't comment on anything about Chapa because of the continuing investigation.
Again, Chapa wasn't even supposed to be riding on January 17, according to New Mexico Racing Commission records. The New Mexico stewards banned Chapa on December 21, 2014, for failing to pay a $100 fine for reckless riding on August 16, 2014. Chapa should have been barred from riding at every track in the country, but he rode in Louisiana, and then came to Sam Houston Race Park for the opening thoroughbred meet. After the buzzer story broke, Chapa was quietly reinstated by the New Mexico Racing Commission on January 27.
After holding a hearing in late February, on March 3 the Texas Racing Commission stewards suspended Chapa from Texas racing for five years and fined him $25,000, the maximum penalty allowed under Texas racing rules.
Chapa's lawyer before the racing commission, Paul Vick, immediately filed a requested stay of the suspension and ruling. Vick cited jockey Larry Taylor's testimony. Taylor has also ridden Quiet Acceleration and won aboard the horse. During the hearing, Taylor told the stewards he'd watched the video of the 2015 Richard King Turf Stakes, saying, "The horse ran just as he always had" with Taylor.
Vick also argued that no physical evidence of a buzzer was discovered even though authorities had searched the track and Chapa's saddle once the allegations came to light.
Vick also pointed out in court documents that DPS investigator Jeffrey Green told the commission he had investigated six to eight buzzer allegations, and in each case physical evidence of a buzzer was found. The court documents state that the only evidence against Chapa is Coady's photograph, and Coady couldn't say for sure that the object in Chapa's left palm was a machine when he testified before the commission during the hearing. The stay was filed on March 4.
The next day, Texas Racing Commission Executive Director Chuck Trout used his powers as head of the agency to issue an order increasing the fine to $100,000. The order states Trout raised the fine because Chapa is a repeat offender and because of the damage he has done to the reputation of Texas racing and pari-mutuel wagering. The riding ban was left in place, but the commission granted a stay on the fine. Chapa is appealing the ruling and will not have to pay the fine until an administrative law judge has reviewed the case, a process that can take months.
But the stewards of the racing commission were not finished. After Coady's photo came to light, they investigated Chapa's 2014 victory aboard Quiet Acceleration in the same stakes race. It was a similar trip, with Chapa and Quiet Acceleration hovering in the back of the field until they rounded the final turn, when the horse jolted forward in the stretch run, winning the race by a length. Commission spokesman Robert Elrod won't comment on what stewards saw in their review of the photos and video of the race. The stewards have scheduled a hearing for May 14 on this new accusation of unlawful influence on a race at Sam Houston Race Park. Elrod declined to say if the stewards are investigating any of Chapa's other Texas races.
Retama Park General Manager Kevin Whalen declined to weigh in on whether Chapa would be allowed to race in San Antonio again once the ban is lifted in 2020. Lone Star Park President Scott Wells was clear on the matter. "Ex post facto, he'll never set foot on our property again," Wells says. "He's apparently a repeat offender, but what we know is he cheated during a race apparently and tried to hide that fact and is allegedly guilty of tampering with a horse race, something that is absolutely against the principles of racing wherever you are." Andrea Young says Chapa has been banned from Sam Houston Race Park for life. "Given what happened, we're not interested in ever having him back."
It's unclear what will happen to Chapa now. If the ban is upheld, legally he won't be allowed to race on any licensed track in the United States for five years. Wells, a third-generation horseman, former trainer and longtime consultant in both the national and international racing industries, says Chapa may have to resort to the unlicensed tracks if he wants to keep making a living as a jockey. "There's no place in the U.S. that will allow him to race," Wells says. "In Mexico, I doubt seriously he'd be able to race at their main national track. If he's going to make any money as a jockey, it's probably going to be through unsanctioned match races or something. Or who knows, he may decide to get fat and become a gallop boy at some farm. That's what I've seen a lot of washed-up jockeys do."
Pish said Quiet Acceleration showed no signs of damage or injury after the January race. The horse ran in a $17,500 claiming race in Louisiana in March for a $20,500 purse. Quiet Acceleration lingered toward the back of the pack in seventh place until he saved ground on the turn toward home and started to move up. Once again, he showed that late-in-the-race burst of speed, rushing through the pack to the finish line to grab second place. Anyone who wanted the horse could have bought him for $17,500.
He wasn't claimed.
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