The commission is seeking a budget increase of almost $800,000, in part to test more racehorses for performance-enhancing drugs and to hire three more employees, including another track investigator.
"New Mexico has a drug problem," said Vince Mares, who directs the Racing Commission's day-to-day operations. "I've identified people who have doped horses and caused the deaths of horses."
Mares, testifying before the Legislative Finance Committee, said the underlying message of inadequate testing is that horse owners and trainers "have to cheat to compete."
State Sen. John Arthur Smith said afterward that Mares made a good case for adding money to the Racing Commission's budget.
"If we're going to attempt to salvage the industry, I'd say the chances are probably pretty good that it will happen," said Smith, D-Deming.
He said New Mexico horse racing was "under a cloud," and that lingering questions about its credibility would hurt the businesses unless improvements are made.
Legislators have paid close attention to horseracing for most of this year.
An investigation by The New York Times last March found that five of the seven U.S. tracks with the highest rates of horse breakdowns and deaths were in New Mexico.
Ruidoso Downs had the worst record of all from 2009 to 2011, at 13.9 incidents per
The method of generating these statistics brought criticism from Mares and others. Still, Mares said the Times' story was valuable in that it alerted state residents to the industry's problems.
In turn, Smith said Mares had held back nothing from legislators, strengthening his argument that tracks need to be supervised more closely.
"He has been one of our most candid directors," Smith said.
Currently, the Racing Commission has 18.7 employees and an annual budget of $1.98 million.
Mares said the agency wants an increase to $2.75 million next year. This would enable him to hire the three additional employees and double testing of racehorses.
By the commission's estimate, the horseracing industry is worth $175 million a year to New Mexico's economy.
Under the existing commission budget, one or two horses in fields of 10 or 12 are tested after each race. If the budget increase were granted, Mares estimated that three or four horses per race would undergo drug tests.
This change would not be enough of a deterrent to end illegal doping, but it would reduce cheating, Mares said.
In addition, he told legislators the agency wants sufficient funding to continue necropsies of horses that die while racing.
One ongoing concern for the health of jockeys and horses is the condition of the track at Zia Park in Hobbs, Mares said. The commission has hired an outside expert to assess the track.
Sen. Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, said track safety was paramount to her.
"One breakdown of a horse because of track conditions is one too many," Papen said.
Mares agreed. But he said, when necropsies of fallen horses reveal a heart that exploded, the issue is performance-enhancing drugs, not dangerous tracks.