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NMHA-NMRC feud coming to a boil

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Peter Stein/News-Sun

Richard Erhard had an unhappy task on Wednesday.

Erhard, executive director of the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association, was cleaning office equipment out of Ruidoso Downs Race Track and Casino, something he did not imagine he would be doing just a week earlier.

The NHMA was instructed by the New Mexico Racing Commission to clear the premises of Ruidoso Downs late last week after the NMRC voted to “unrecognize” the NHMA. It was part of an ongoing battle between the two organizations that has come to a head. The organizations have been involved in disputes over simulcasting contracts and purse money.

“That is the gist,” Erhard said, “but it is much deeper than that, much more complex.”

Erhard said he wasn’t allowed to comment further on pending litigation.

According to a letter from attorney Gary C. Mitchell to the NMHA urging members to contact state government officials about the NMRC’s decision, the NMRC has taken its recent action “for two reasons – they wish to take over the simulcasting contracts (they do not like the Horsemen making demands for better racing conditions) and in retaliation for our protesting the wrongful tak- i n g of our purse money.

It is another tortious action by the New

Mexico Racing Commission to retaliate against the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association’s protection of gaming purse money, advocating for full race meets, better racing conditions and fairer racing in New Mexico.

“The simulcast law is a federal law and the New Mexico Racing Commission does not have jurisdiction or authority over said law,” Mitchell’s letter goes on to state. “The Federal Courts have so held.”

“The NMRC is probably going to dispute (the litigation) because they lie about everything,” Hobbs horse owner and breeder Susie Prather said. “It’s serious news. They’re damaging the horse racing industry in New Mexico. They can’t do that. Anybody that knows the laws in the state knows they can’t do what they did. (The NMHA) is a state agency, and (the NMRC is) just all of a sudden deciding that they’re not going to recognize them anymore.”

Prather says the NMRC’s decision to “unrecognize” the NMHA could be just the beginning.

“I think it’s going to happen everywhere else,” she said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen yet.”

“We’ve been squabbling with the racing commission for years,” said horse owner and breeder Pam Sena, who has served on the committee at Ruidoso Downs. “We’ve gotten into squabbles about them not doing things correctly or by statute.

“We’ve tried to work with them,” Sena said, “we can’t.”

Among the disagreements between the NMHA and the NMRC, according to Sena, is who should foot the bill for having horse races at casino/race tracks. “They think we should help out with their overhead, their lighting, their janitorial,” Sena said. “But that’s not up to us.”

Casino/race tracks are required by law to hold a certain number of horse racing events per year in order to have a casino operating, according to Sena. She offered as an example a Farmington casino that was allowed to cut its horse racing down to 17 days, the minimum possible to still be allowed to operate the casino.

With regard to the purse money, the NMHA gets 20 percent of the casino’s take for the racing events to use to dole out purses for the winners. But, says Sena, the casinos have been trying to get more control over that money.

“They’ve just been pushing and pushing and biting away at the statutes without much punishment,” Sena said. “I think because they were appointed by the governor, they feel they can do whatever they want.”

Sena thinks the disagreements are bad for horse racing in the state.

“Because of this constant dickering,” she said, “so many trainers are leaving New Mexico. Horse racing does a lot for New Mexico, but we can’t get the governor to realize that.”

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