On-track drug injections, shock devices and a dead jockey: A “bush track” in Georgia is one of dozens that profit outside the reach of regulation.
by GUS GARCIA-ROBERTS |Published August 5, 2022/Updated August 6, 2022
MILNER, Ga. — In this population-800 town in rural Georgia, where residents along winding country roads fly the Stars and Stripes and Trump banners, there’s a horse track on a pecan farm that raises only one flag: that of Mexico.
The spectators show up for race days every couple of weeks, Latino cowboys and their families arriving in late-model pickup trucks with license plates from Georgia and Alabama, Guerrero and Monterrey. Admission at the door is $100 per head in cash, collected before a cadre of armed guards search vehicles. Inside, Norteño music blends with the scent of tacos, and an announcer calls the races in profane Spanish.
But the prerace routines at Rancho El Centenario are a little different — or at least more transparent — than at a mainstream racehorse track.
One muggy day in July, when a young horse trainer in a patterned shirt and trucker hat sauntered onto the track with a syringe in hand, fans crowded the rail to get a glimpse. A jockey guided a quarter horse named Chiquibaby over to the trainer, who jabbed the needle into the horse’s neck and pushed the plunger before jumping away.
“Bring another for me!” cried out a Modelo-clutching railbird in Spanish, referring to the syringe full of mystery substances, eliciting laughter from the other fans and the trainer.
When asked about the injection following the race, the trainer said the syringe didn’t contain performance-enhancing drugs but medicine to prevent a horse from suffering a stroke or a heart attack.
But before another race that day, a reporter for The Washington Post watched a different trainer inject a horse named El Mago near the end of the 500-yard track. After that trainer tossed the syringe in the dirt, the reporter collected it and later submitted it to Industrial Laboratories, an accredited horse racing testing facility in Colorado. Its findings: The syringe contained methamphetamine and methylphenidate, the stimulant sold as Ritalin.
89 tracks and counting
Angela Pelzel-McCluskey’s first encounter with the bush circuit came in the form of a bony 7-year-old quarter horse brought to a veterinarian in Ocala, Fla., in 2008.
Pelzel-McCluskey is an equine epidemiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture charged with keeping disease from spreading through the American horse industry. The horse in Ocala, lethargic and refusing to eat or drink, tested positive for piroplasmosis, an infectious blood disease rare in the United States but endemic in Mexico that typically dooms its carriers to euthanasia or lifelong isolation.
Note: There are two investigative reports, one by PETA and another by the Washington Post.
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