Governor discusses oversight for unsanctioned horse races

DENVER -- After seeing a months-long FOX31 investigation into the dangers of unsanctioned horse racing, Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said he’s supportive of some sort of new oversight.

“When financial self- interest is involved, people might dope up horses -- do things that are unacceptable for almost everyone,” Governor Hickenlooper told FOX31 during a recent on-camera interview.

“You want to get all those people together and say how can we make sure these horses are not mistreated for the lowest amount of cost and intrusion into people’s lives? We want to make the regulatory part of as minimum as possible and still guarantee the welfare of horses.”

The days where two ranchers saddled-up their best horses and raced them across a field for bragging rights are long past.

Unsanctioned Match Race Deer Trail, CO April 2017

Unsanctioned horse races are now big business.

A FOX31 Problem Solvers investigation found they draw thousands of spectators, tens of thousands of dollars in alleged prize money, and plenty of illegal gambling on the side.

Evidence, collected from an unsanctioned race in Deer Trail, also indicated some horses are doped up with painkillers and caffeine as they hit the starting gates.

Governor Hickenlooper told FOX31 such mistreatment of race horses is a motivating factor in his re-evaluation of the state’s “hands-off” approach to match racing.

Colorado already has a State Racing Commission and sends doping and gambling enforcement agents to oversee “certified, licensed” races at Arapahoe Park, but nowhere else.

Chief of Racing Enforcement, Ron Hammerzell, told the FOX31 Problem Solvers he hears complaints about unsanctioned horse racing, happening at rodeo grounds like in Deer Trail, but can’t do anything about it.

Hammerzell said, “Simply, our statutory authority doesn’t really allow us to get involved there. Again, when local law enforcement calls, we assist them in any way we can.”

Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper

Governor Hickenlooper thinks with the help of venue operators, animal rights organizations (like the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), lawmakers, and racing regulators, the state can and should start thinking about crafting some simple safety rules that bring horse match-races out of the shadows.

Hickenlooper asked, “How to we get to a compromise where everyone is satisfied – where we can make sure horses are not mistreated, the spectators and racers are safe and the end of every day, everything is going to be okay?”

The Governor cannot craft laws, but made it clear during our interview, he would support proposed legislation aimed at cleaning up the criminal elements connected to unsanctioned horse racing, while making the events safer for the horses and jockeys.