01/27/2015 2:43PM

Jockey Chapa charged with felony over alleged buzzer use

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Coady Photography/DRF Illustration
Jockey Roman Chapa is accused of using a buzzer to win the Richard King Stakes aboard Quiet Acceleration at Sam Houston Race Park on Jan. 17.

Roman Chapa, the Texas-based jockey who was banned by the Texas Racing Commission on Jan. 19 for allegedly using an electrical device on a horse at Sam Houston Race Park two days earlier, has been charged with a felony by a county district attorney, Texas law enforcement officials said Tuesday.

Chapa, 43, was charged with one count of unlawful influence on racing by the Harris County District Attorney. Texas statutes provide that the charge is a Class 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.”

Chapa was charged after an investigation into the incident conducted by the Texas Department of Public Safety. In a report on the investigation prepared by Jeffrey Green of the Texas DPS, Chapa was said to have contacted Sam Houston’s track photographer, Jack Coady, seeking to get a finish-line photo of the race in question removed from the track’s website. The photo, taken from the rail side of the track rather than the grandstand side, shows what appears to be the bottom of the device in Chapa’s left hand.

Chapa won the Jan. 17 race, the Richard King Stakes, on Quiet Acceleration. The horse is trained and owned by Danny Pish. Green said in his report that Pish, his assistant trainer, the assistant starter for the race, Chapa’s jockey agent, and an outrider all denied knowing that Chapa used a device on the horse in the race.

The report by Green said that Chapa told the investigator in an interview that “the photograph had been Photoshopped and someone was trying to frame him.” Chapa also denied that he used an electrical device during the race and said that he did not contact Coady about the photograph. However, Coady provided his cellphone to the investigator, and the phone contained the text messages from Chapa cited by Coady, Green said in his report.

Chapa was suspended by the Texas Racing Commission after the photo was forwarded to the commission by the Paulick Report, a news website. The jockey has appealed the summary suspension, and a hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9. An official at the commission said on Tuesday that an investigation into the incident remains “ongoing.”

The purse for the Richard King Stakes has not been distributed as officials await official post-race testing results. Once the results are returned, the first-place purse will continue to be withheld until the commission’s investigation is complete, the commission official said.

Chapa has twice been suspended for using a device or illegal object on a horse, according to regulatory records. In 2007, he was banned for five years by the New Mexico Racing Commission for using an electrical device on a Quarter Horse at Sunland Park. In 1994, he was suspended for nine months in Texas for using a nail on a Quarter Horse, presumably to get the horse to run faster.

Last year, Chapa’s name surfaced in a video released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals in March that alleged that horses trained by Steve Asmussen were mistreated. During the video, employees of Asmussen’s barn can be heard relaying stories of Chapa’s alleged use of electrical devices. Chapa has ridden horses trained by Asmussen’s Texas operation.

Asmussen was recently exonerated of PETA’s charges in a report following an investigation into the allegations by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. The report said that Kentucky investigators reviewed rides of jockeys employed by Asmussen in Kentucky races but could find no substantiation of the riders using electrical devices. The investigators did not review races run in Texas.

During the first two nights of racing at Sam Houston this year, Chapa won with five of his seven mounts.

– additional reporting by Mary Rampellini