Jockey Tomas Mejia has been suspended for 10 years and fined $5,000 by the Monmouth Park board of stewards for possessing an electrical device during the running of a Sept. 3 race at the New Jersey racetrack.
The Sept. 15 ruling came after photographic evidence was presented to the stewards, proving that Mejia had the electrical device upon his entrance to the winner's circle after winning the seventh race aboard Strongerthanuknow and prior to dismounting. In response to a Sept. 10 request by BloodHorse for an image of the race in question, the track photographer responded that they were "not permitted to send that photo out at this time." A follow-up request Sept. 16 received no response.
An electrical device, known as a "buzzer" in racetrack lingo, is used to urge a horse into running faster by delivering an electronic shock. They are prohibited.
Strongerthanuknow, owned by Colts Neck Stables and trained by Jorge Duarte Jr., won a five-furlong allowance race, paying $11. In third place entering the stretch, the filly surged late under urging from Mejia to catch 4-5 favorite Mumbai.
In addition, the stewards referred the matter to the New Jersey Racing Commission with a recommendation that Mejia's license be permanently revoked.
The suspension for Mejia is double the length of a five-year suspension given to the late Roman Chapa by the Texas Racing Commission for carrying a buzzer in a race at Sam Houston Race Park in 2015, one of the multiple infractions the rider had for electronic shocking devices. Chapa was also fined $100,000.
Scrutiny of Chapa similarly emerged after a photograph showing the apparent shock device in Chapa's hand was published on the Sam Houston website.
In another case last year, jockey Denny Velazquez was handed a one-year suspension and a $10,000 fine by the board of stewards at Canterbury Park for being found in possession of an electrical device and a loaded firearm during a search of his vehicle.
Those infractions came at tracks in which riding crop regulations were not nearly as restrictive as Monmouth Park. This year, the New Jersey Racing Commission implemented rules that prevent a jockey from using the riding crop except for safety reasons. Stewards have issued suspensions this meet to jockeys that have used the crop.
The stewards did not disqualify Strongerthanuknow or revise the order of finish. In their ruling, they only cited Mejia for possession of the device—their evidence centered on photographs taken of Mejia in the winner's circle after the race—not the use of it. By his possession of the device on Monmouth Park grounds, Mejia was found to be in violation of NJRC rules N.J.A.C. 13:70-14.5 (a) (d) (e) and N.J.A.C. 13:70-1.15.
Christophe Clement, who trains runner-up Mumbai for Waterville Lake Stable, was upset that Strongerthanuknow was not disqualified and is awaiting a return call from the stewards to explain their decision. The race offered a purse of $56,625 with $34,500 for the winner and $11,500 for the second-place finisher.
"I am very disappointed that in 2021 a jockey at a major track would use such a device," Clement said. "I am glad he was suspended and I am glad they took action to suspend him. I am waiting to hear from the stewards what will happen regarding the race."
As part of the suspension, which will run through Sept. 9, 2031, Mejia is denied access to all grounds under the jurisdiction of the NJRC for any and all purposes.
John Heims, Monmouth Park's racing secretary and director of racing, said, "The stewards' ruling speaks for itself."
Robert Tuccille, Mejia's agent, said he asked Mejia if he carried the device during the race and did not receive an answer.
"I'm still trying to wrap myself around all this because I did not know all the details of it," Tuccille said. "The penalty is serious and the allegations are serious. All I know is that they have a photo. It's a very sad situation and a very tough situation, because there was no need for it."
Tuccille said he was uncertain if Mejia would file an appeal.
"I imagine if he was going to appeal, I would have heard about it by now," Tuccille said, "but he hasn't said anything about it."
Mejia, 26, has ridden 1,101 mounts in North America with 110 wins and earnings of $2,964,048 in earnings. He is tied for ninth at the Monmouth meet with 19 wins.