Tomas Mejia received a 10 year ban and a $5000.00 fine after using an electrical shocking device known as a buzzer in a race he won at Monmouth Park aboard Strongerthanuknow on September 3rd, 2021
Will Horse Racing address this latest animal cruelty and cheating incident properly and with the firmness, timeliness, and severity it warrants?
A picture is worth a thousand words as they say. It was a picture taken by a Monmouth Park track photographer and posted on their Facebook page which revealed jockey Tomas Mejia in possession of a battery after winning a race at Monmouth Park. The photo was apparently taken on the backside after Mejia pulled up Strongerthanuknow and was about to gallop back to the winners circle. The photo showed Mejia holding something with two protruding prongs. The device was recognized by many in the industry as a battery, buzzer, machine, all of which are racetrack terms for an electrical shocking device. The photograph was subsequently removed but not before Monmouth Park stewards removed Mejia from all his upcoming mounts and scheduled a hearing.
Here is a copy of the ruling that followed Mejia’s hearing:
Most people in the racing community knew what they were looking at when the picture initially surfaced. That in it self is troubling as is the fact we have no less than three active terms, buzzer, battery, and machine for this type of electrical shocking device. There are more troubling issues here and also more questions that need to be asked, answered, and addressed quickly and firmly. Will racing as an industry do so? That remains to be seen but it is a bet against proposition for any astute player of this so called Sport of Kings.
Ask anyone with experience around not only race horses but large animals in general about their behavioral characteristics.They are unpredictable when introduced to new experiences. At times dangerously unpredictable. That will likely be the common consensus answer you get. We went further and invite you to move ahead to about minute 50 of our roundtable on the state of affairs in horse racing this mid September of 2021. The battery incident came up and Southern California based trainer Jeff Metz was asked about the incident. His answer is worth noting.
We’d venture to say it is extremely risky and inherently dangerous to use a battery on a horse for the first time during a race. You’d have no way to anticipate how the horse will react and a sudden knee jerk or fearful response from the animal is not only possible but even likely. Racetrack lore would have you believe that for a rider to use a battery on a horse in the afternoon or during a race, they would have to know or believe the horse had been exposed or trained with one in the morning. What type of rider would risk a horse suddenly bearing in or out sharply, or stopping or bolting or even bucking during a race? Not many would be my guess.
The horse in question rallied down the stretch off a lay-off to beat the favorite at the wire. If you bet on that favorite I would argue you were the victim of a crime and robbed without a gun.
Strongerthanuknow was trained by Jorge Duarte Jr. for owner Colts Neck Stables. These are prominent connections in the industry.
Interestingly Tomas Mejia is a current record holder at Monmouth Park. He holds the record for riding the highest priced winner in the tracks history. Andrez Conquist, a 158-1 shot ridden by Meija, returned the highest win price ever at Monmouth Park in their history when he paid $319.80. The horse won by four lengths. The previous record was 69 years old. You can read about Andrez Conquist here.
We all know Monmouth Park was home to Jorge Navarro who recently pled guilty in Federal Court to serious racing related charges involving PED’s or performance enhancing drugs. We also know it was home to Jason Servis who is fighting similar charges and may be the next to plead guilty. You can read about that likelihood here.
I always say coincidences are for romance novels and there a plenty of coincidences here.
Now the questions.
Will anyone in tight lipped New Jersey at the track level or gaming commission level refer this case and the evidence to law enforcement or prosecutors for a criminal investigation?
Will the FBI who we presume still has an open investigation into the Navarro-Servis et al debacle against the sport take the lead on this and investigate further?
In the absence of actual criminal prosecution does racing have any real teeth with which to bite these types of offenders?
How rare is this sort of thing? One look at the Paulick Report page on batteries and you can see what in essence amounts to a section of battery or buzzer related incidents. You can see them here.
Was there anything to that old PETA video we all hate and love to bash where some big names in racing spoke rather openly and in what seemed like jest about the use of buzzers?
Will racing as an industry, and HISA when and if they get up and running, see the hypocrisy and outright absurdity in the disparities in fines and penalties for someone using an electrical shocking device as opposed to the drug violators?
Will Jorge Duarte Jr. and Colts Neck Stables comment on this, will they be transparent and will they be investigated for any possible complicity or knowledge?
Was this incident in any way the result or by product of the Monmouth Park whip and crop restrictions and if so how common is it?
Will we embrace technology across the board to improve the sport? Cameras in stalls and shed-rows, centralized pharmacies, zoom lenses to watch riders. Churchill Downs used wands to check riders prior to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks. Obviously they were checking for buzzers. What else would a wand be used for? Why are we not randomly using wands to check for buzzers? As an industry do we truly and collectively want to do what it takes and invest what is needed to do this right or do we just want that next paycheck at the horses and bettors and other victims expense? I say don’t tell me anything, show me everything.
Will we use technology for real time odds and payoffs and eradicate the late odds fluctuations?
Some weeks back there was plenty of chatter on social media about Monmouth Park jockeys using batteries. With the whip ban I thought to myself that would be no surprise to me. It was jockeys as in plural and nothing I saw named anyone or anything specific. If I missed it apologies to whoever said it. As far as I saw nobody who knew something said anything. Innuendos didn’t get Mejia caught. A track photographer did.
As an industry we are so far past the crossroads of righting the ship. We love to point out the slight progress we’ve made but I have said before we are only as strong as our weakest links. We have many weak links. The short answer is pretty simple. The animals have to come first. They don’t. The money and business does and that is just a cold hard fact we need to be realistic about if there is any hope of horse racing once again being the Sport of Kings as opposed to the Sport of Cheats and ostriches.
There are many in the sport who care and do the right thing day in and day out. Sadly they are over shadowed by those who don’t and we have many of them as well. There are also a lot more questions than answers and I am not sure we’ll like the answers if and when we get them. Let’s hope I’m wrong.
Main Photo: Eye of the Horse, Courtney Snow Photography