A grand jury in Texas has indicted nine for operating an illegal horse racing meet near the city of Fort Worth. Animal health regulators report that illegal racing at so-called “bush tracks” is associated with the spread of serious horse diseases, such as equine infectious anemia and piroplasmosis, obviously putting the horse’s welfare at risk.
In October of 2019 the Parker County Sheriff’s Office assisted the Texas Department of Public Safety Criminal Investigations Division, the Texas Animal Health Commission, and several others to investigate a bush track in Springtown, Texas.
What are Bush Tracks
Bush tracks are unlicensed makeshift racetracks that operate in rural areas. They are not sanctioned by state racing commissions. These commissions regulate the number of times a horse can compete in a 24-hour period; prohibit the use of banned substances and devices to enhance a horse’s performance; and require current equine health certificates and proof of negative Coggins blood tests. These blood tests detect EIA antibodies in a horse’s bloodstream.
On Dec. 19, 2019, a Parker County grand jury indicted Jessica Judith Davila, Yesenia Garza, Blanca Gonsalez, Edgar Valentin Mendoza, Juan Francisco Renteria, Ever Noruf Rodriguez-Rodriguez, Pablo Erasmo Solis, Ivan Raymundo Suarez, and Alonso Venzor in connection with the illegal horse racing operation.
The subsequent probe revealed most of the horses and jockeys were in direct violation of the state’s Horse Racing Act by racing twice in the same weekend.
Officials also found several syringes allegedly containing illegal substances used to increase a horse’s racing performance and related drug paraphernalia at the scene.
If convicted, each of those indicted could face penalties of two to 20 years in prison and fines up to $10,000 for every count of conducting a horse race without a license.
Infectious Disease Spread
The indictments are significant because the rise in EIA and equine piroplasmosis cases in the United States is directly connected with the rise in the number of bush tracks operating, said Joelle R. Hayden, public affairs specialist for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (USDA-APHIS).
Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is a viral disease that attacks horses’ immune systems. The virus is transmitted through the exchange of body fluids from an infected to an uninfected animal, often by blood-feeding insects such as horseflies. It can also be transmitted through the use of blood-contaminated instruments or needles. There is no cure or vaccine for EIA. A horse diagnosed with the disease dies, must be euthanized, or must be placed under extremely strict quarantine conditions for the rest of their life.
Equine piroplasmosis is caused by protozoal parasites that can be spread naturally by ticks. But more commonly it is spread when caretakers use contaminated needles, syringes, and treatment/surgical equipment and products among horses. It can take as long as 30 days for an infected horse to test positive for the parasite after exposure. Some infected horses can carry the causative parasite without showing clinical signs. Horses that test positive for the disease are quarantined and could ultimately be euthanized.
Anything that can be done to keep horseracing on the up and up is a good thing. There is no need for horses to die because others don’t want to follow the rules.
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