Running From the Law: Photo Finish Ends With Felony Charges

On January 17, 2015, veteran horse jockey Roman Chapa and his horse “Quiet Acceleration” were holding steady in the Richard King Stakes Race at Sam Houston Park in Texas. Suddenly, the horse shifted gears and ended up winning the $50,000 purse by a mere half a length. What may have looked like a valiant effort quickly took a turn for the worse. While every jockey dreams of winning by a “photo finish”, perhaps Chapa would have preferred to skip this step.

The race’s actual finish line photo revealed a small device in the palm of Chapa’s hand. According to the Horse Collaborative, the device is known as a “machine, battery or buzzer—a crudely fastened hand-held electro-shock device offenders apply to the horse to give them an extra jolt of encouragement.” Not only is the device cruel to the horses but it’s also a crime.

The Harris County District Attorney charged Chapa with one count of unlawful influence on racing. The charge is “a misdemeanor unless ‘the actor possessed the device or substance with the intent to influence or affect the outcome of a horse or greyhound race,’ in which case it is a ‘state jail felony,’ according to the Daily Racing Forum. The Texas Racing Commission has suspended Chapa indefinitely. All others involved with the horse, including the trainer/ owner, assistant trainer, Chapa’s agent, and an outrider, denied knowledge of the buzzer use. Chapa was suspended twice before, in 2007 and 1994, for using an illegal device or object. In 2012, he received a fine for whipping a horse in the face. In 2001 and 2002, he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty charges.

The Harris County Sherriff’s Department has issued a warrant for Chapa’s arrest. The real question remains: why is someone who is this cruel to animals still allowed to compete?