HOUSTON – One of the common misdeeds of unethical jockeys is using an electrical device to energize a horse. Perhaps the most publicized incident of this occurred in 1999 when a Kentucky Derby entrant named Valhol was ridden by Billy Patin, who was caught using a buzzer in the Arkansas Derby.
Patin was suspended from riding for less than a year before being welcomed back to the racetracks. He’s still riding.
Not so fortunate is Roman Chapa, who faces felony charges – and perhaps 10 years in prison – for allegedly zapping a horse on Jan. 17 at Sam Houston Race Park.
His problem is that Texas takes a much stronger position than Arkansas, Louisiana or New Mexico when it comes to using electrical charges on horses. In Texas it’s a felony if “the actor possessed the device with the intent to influence the outcome of a horse or greyhound race.”
Chapa, 43, was charged after an investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety, which seems strange, as the DPS is primarily involved in automobile safety, not horse safety.
At any rate, Chapa finished first in the Richard King Stakes (named for the founder of the King Ranch) on Quiet Acceleration. The horse, a 10-1 long shot, was fifth in a nine-horse field before surging near the end to win the race by half a length.
A photo of the horse nearing the finish line was posted on the website the Pauliuck Report. Track photographer Jack Coady said Chapa sent him text messages asking him to remove the photo from the website because it was “a bad picture.”
Actually it was quite a clear picture, taken from the rail side of the track instead of the grandstand, which is the usual perspective. The photo showed Chapa holding a small object, along with the reins, in his left hand. Since this was a stakes race, it was accorded more photography coverage than other races.
Chapa claimed the photo was altered and that someone is trying to frame him. But this is not the first time he’s been accused of shenanigans.
In 2007 he was suspended for five years in New Mexico for using an electrical device at Sunland Park.
In 1994 he was suspended by the Texas Racing Commission for nine months for using a nail in a quarter-horse race at the Gillespie County Fair in Fredericksburg. Although the assumption was that he was trying to influence the outcome of the race, he was not charged with a crime.
According to the Pauliuck Report, Chapa in 2001 served 10 days in jail for cruelty to animals, after police said he tortured a dog with a strap.
Quiet Acceleration is owned and trained by Danny Pish. One trainer at Sam Houston, who asked not to be identified, said, “I doubt the jockey would have done this without the trainer knowing about it. Especially when the horse is stakes caliber.”
The typical procedure for using a buzzer is for the rider of the pony horse to hand it to the jockey on the backstretch as his racehorse is warming up. This is also the area where the offending jockey usually disposes of the device after the race.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals alleged last March that trainer Steve Asmussen mistreated his horses. Chapa rode for Asmussen in Texas, and employees of the stable were heard on tape discussing Chapa using electrical devices.
Even without charges being filled, Sam Houston and other racetracks could have banned Chapa from their facilities, but they did not. This is what happens in a sport that has no central governing body. Each race track does what it wants. Too often it does little or nothing to punish this sort of cheating.