12/07/2007 1:00AM

Sponge probe in Delaware

EmailDelaware State Police, the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, and the Delaware Racing Commission are jointly investigating an incident in which a small sponge was inserted into a horse's nose before a race on Oct. 16 at Delaware Park, the executive director of the commission said Friday.

John Wayne, the racing commission's top official, said that the investigation was launched several weeks after the race, when Susan Rasmussen, the owner of the 2-year-old filly Maren's Meadow, told commission officials that a sponge had been removed from her horse at Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Kentucky following the Oct. 16 race. Maren's Meadow finished third in the race at 9-10.

Wayne said he could not comment on the status of the investigation, but said that racing officials and police investigators were treating the incident as a criminal act. Racing investigators are also looking over wagering records from the race, Wayne said.

"This is something worthy of a full-court press," Wayne said. "We want to find out who did it and why. I'm really bothered when I see something like this, not just for the health of the animal and the integrity of the race, but for the safety of the riders and other horses in the race."

The incident is reminiscent of cases in Kentucky in 1996 and 1997 in which sponges were found in the nostrils of a dozen horses. Those cases remain unsolved, though a suspect was named. In addition, two horses at Santa Anita racetrack in California were found to have sponges inserted in their noses prior to races in 2001.

Maren's Meadow, who is trained by Larry Jones, was beaten 6 1/4 lengths in the Oct. 16 allowance race after tiring in the stretch. She had previously finished fourth in the Grade 1 Matron Stakes at Belmont Park.