There's something to be said for second or even third chances, but not when someone commits an act that is cruel to the horse, fleeces the bettors and damages the sport's reputation. Jockey Roman Chapa did just that not once but twice, yet a sport that is notoriously lenient on cheats and miscreants kept letting him come back. And apparently he never learned any lessons nor did he reform as he is being charged with carrying a battery. This time it happened Jan. 17 in a race at Sam Houston.
Shocking a horse with an electrical device is revolting and easily falls within the definition of animal cruelty. It's sick.
''Who would want to do something like that to these beautiful animals?" Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito once asked in a New York Times story. "Would you stick something on his neck? If somebody did this to one of my horses, there would be no need for a security investigation. I'd go tear them apart myself.''
When it comes to using a battery, the only appropriate policy is a zero-tolerance policy. Get caught, just once, and you're banned for life.
But that's not how horse racing does things. Typically, anyone breaking the rules gets a slap on the wrist and the slap usually gets only a bit more painful with subsequent violations.
According to the Daily Racing Form, Chapa was first caught in 1994 when he was suspended nine months in Texas for allegedly using a nail to stab a horse to try to make him run faster. The Form is also reporting that 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.
There's more. Though unrelated to horse racing, in 2002 Chapa once again showed just what kind of person he is. According to the Paulick Report, he served 10 days in jail after a plea agreement that reduced felony charges of cruelty to animals to a misdemeanor. He was arrested after a Dec. 14, 2001, incident in which police said he "knowingly tortures an animal, namely a dog, by beating it with a strap."
Yet none of this was enough for the sport to keep him out. Apparently, regulators were so feckless that they even let him back early. Chapa was supposed to begin a five-year suspension in 2007 yet returned to riding in 2011, only four years later. So you have someone who used a nail on a horse, was caught using a battery on another and knowingly tortured dogs. Through a combination of weakness, incompetence and apathy, a person who has absolutely no business participating in this sport was welcomed back to the saddle in 2011. And it's just not racing commissions that should be coming under fire. Racetracks had the right to ban Chapa, yet Sam Houston and parent company Penn National welcomed him back to their riding colony despite his record.
And did any trainers think twice about using a rider with such a record? Not many, it seems, and definitely not Steve Asmussen.
It makes you wonder if Asmussen has any common sense. He himself was involved in a scandal involving the People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, whose investigation delved into riders using batteries. In fact, in the PETA undercover video Asmussen's assistant Scott Blasi discussed how Chapa used a battery and liked to hide it in his mouth.
Trying to clear his name, Asmussen, one would think, would go nowhere near Chapa, yet he rode him 49 times in 2014. In the race under investigation, Chapa rode the horse for trainer Danny Pish. But earlier in the card he rode a winner for Asmussen.
There's no evidence that Chapa used a battery on the Asmussen horse, and if he did, that he did so with Asmussen's knowledge. But with everything that is going on with Asmussen, how could he possibly have thought it was a good idea to use a rider with a history of using batteries?
Maybe this time racing will get it right and get rid of him for good. But first they have to find him. On Tuesday, a felony warrant for his arrest was issued but the Harris County Sherriff's Office could not locate him. Considering that the matter is now being handled by real law enforcement agencies, Chapa figures to be a in a lot of trouble.
In the meantime, horse racing has some explaining to do. Roman Chapa should have been thrown out a long time ago, but wasn't. That he was given chance after chance is inexcusable. Sadly, it's also typical.