Horse owners say New Mexico regulators violated civil rights

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An organization that represents thousands of racehorse owners and trainers is accusing New Mexico regulators of violating their civil rights.

The New Mexico Horsemen’s Association announced Tuesday that it is suing the state Racing Commission in federal court, saying it had no other recourse because the commission barred the group and its members from contacting any commissioners or attending its regular public meetings.

The commission limited communication after the horse owners sued in December to stop the panel from using purse money to cover operating costs at the state’s five privately owned racetracks.

The commission also voted this year to prohibit group members from contributing 1% of their purse winnings to the association and ending the contribution of starter fees that fund medical expenses as well as fees that go toward advocacy efforts. That prompted another legal challenge by the association in state district court.

Commission Chairman Sam Bregman said in a statement Tuesday that it was the horse owners group that was violating the law.

“The New Mexico Racing Commission has stopped the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association’s gravy train of redirecting the purses and the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association have now chosen to spend the horsemen’s money on legal fees,” Bregman said. “New Mexico horse racing will continue to prosper with or without the New Mexico Horsemen’s Association.”

Gary Mitchell, the association’s attorney, accused the commissioners — who are appointed by the governor — of deliberately trying to do away with the group by stopping members from contributing shares of their purse winnings to the association and changing how purse money is distributed and for what purposes.

“They wish to get their hands on this money and use it how they see fit — which is basically to pay the costs of running the racetrack,” Mitchell said, noting that would allow more money to go into the tracks’ associated casinos.