Hate to be the continual bearer of bad news regarding horse racing, a sport I truly do love and grew up around, so consider this a public service announcement to all you degenerate gamblers out there: Jockey Roman Chapa, who has been one of the top 10 riders at Lone Star Park since 2000, has been suspended for five years by the New Mexico Racing Commission after he was found with an electrical stimulation device. (Think a cattle prod: You zap the animal with a little shock of electricity and it moves faster.)
Chapa was found with the device following the sixth race at Sunland Park in New Mexico on February 17. He was fined $1,500.
Horse racing has sort of been rocked by cheating scandals this year. In June, we wrote about Arlington’s Steve Asmussen, who won the Preakness shortly after coming off a six-month doping suspension. Then on Friday, news broke that trainer Patrick Biancone was suspended for a year for possession of cobra venom, which can be used to deaden the pain in a horse’s legs.
Asmussen’s six-month suspension came after stewards in Louisiana found a drug called mepivacaine in the system of a horse he trained. Like cobra venom, mepivacaine can be used as a nerve-blocker. In this case, Asmussen’s horse had 750 times the legal limit of the drug in its system. Asmussen has insisted it was a mistake on the part of the vet who treated the horse prior to the race; skeptics say the horse was drugged to allow it to run lame.
Like other sports, horse racing has been dogged by cheating scandals throughout its history, but some who watch the sport closely say things are getting worse. As HBO pointed out in a Real Sports documentary that aired earlier this year, the nation’s top trainers are a “who’s who of dopers.” In this years Kentucky Derby, nearly half the field was trained by men with doping violations in the past year.
Perhaps it is a sign of the times. In June, Richie Whitt wrote a column on the pervasiveness of cheating in sports. We live in sports’ golden age of cheating, he wrote, a world in which all sorts of cheating is tolerated, in football and soccer and basketball. The difference with horse racing, as the California trainer Jenine Sahadi told me, is that the actual athletes in the sport -- the horses -- have no say in the matter. So when a jockey uses a zapper to get a horse to run faster, or when a trainer dopes up a horse to allow it to run through pain, they aren’t just hurting the integrity of the game -- they’re also putting animals in danger. --Jesse Hyde