ALBUQUERQUIE— The New Mexico Racing Commission has suspended prominent horse trainer John H. Bassett for 10 years after two of his horses tested positive for a banned painkiller.
Bassett also was ordered to give back any purse money won by the doped horses and fined $10,000.
Bassett was one of three trainers whose quarter horses tested positive for an exotic painkiller at Ruidoso Downs in May.
The commission also suspended and fined the trainer for horses owned or partly owned by state Racing Commissioner Ray Willis and his wife, Lola, at a meeting Saturday in Hobbs, according to an Albuquerque Journal report.
The sanctions reflect what had been the state's maximum penalty for the use of the drug dermorphin, a potent painkiller derived from the skin of a South American tree frog. Each infraction carried a maximum penalty of five years' suspension, a $5,000 fine and return of purse money.
The governor-appointed commission has since adopted more stringent regulations on horse doping, including harsher penalties. Under the new rules, owners can be held liable along with the trainers. Under the old rules, owners could not be penalized.
The commission has scrambled to address a number of problems since a New York Times story in March on the state's five racinos. The story found the tracks collectively had the worst safety record in the nation and the state's lax rules allowed trainers to illegally drug their horses with near impunity.
The trainer for some Willis horses, Carl W. Draper, was also sanctioned Saturday. One Draper-trained horse, Separate Battle, tested positive for ractopamine during the Ruidoso Futurity trials. Separate Battle is owned by Sheryl Cox and Lola Willis. Three horses owned entirely or partly by the Willises and trained by Draper tested positive for ractopamine the following day during trials for the $679,000 Ruidoso Derby, which was run June 9.
Seven other horses — five trained by Jeffrey Heath Reed and two trained by Carlos Sedillo — also tested positive for dermorphin during the futurity trials that day. Hearings on those cases are pending.
One of Reed's dermorphin-positive horses, Jess A Zoomin, broke down at Ruidoso Downs on Aug. 17 and had to be euthanized after posting the second-fastest qualifying time for this year's $2.4 million All American Futurity, billed as the world's richest quarter horse race.