Sammy Mendez, the leading Quarter Horse jockey at Indiana Grand in 2020 and ’21, is facing a 20-year suspension and $10,000 fine after admitting he both possessed and used a prohibited electrical device during training and racing at the Shelbyville, Ind., track.
The penalty was recommended by Indiana Horse Racing Commission executive director Deena Pitman in a Nov. 17 administrative complaint into what officials said remains an “ongoing” matter.
The complaint states that Dr. Katie Naughton, a track veterinarian employed by Caesars Entertainment, recovered the device – also referred to as a machine, battery or buzzer – from the track surface following the seventh race on Sept. 4, 2021. Michael Morris, director of security for the racing commission, was notified of the discovery and immediately began an investigation into who may have carried it.
Morris interviewed Mendez on three separate occasions, according to the complaint, with Mendez admitting during the interviews that he “possessed and used the machine on three separate occasions to train horses” at Indiana Grand and that he “possessed and used the machine during race 1 … on Sept. 4, 2021.”
According to Equibase, Mendez rode Rock Candy Almighty to victory in the first race Sept. 4 for owner-breeders Lance and Tammy Finlinson and trainer Randy Smith. The ruling recommends the $11,275 purse won by Rock Candy Almighty be redistributed. Any disqualification would not affect pari-mutuel payouts.
Mendez, who last rode on Sept. 13, was summarily suspended on Sept. 15.
Mendez rode first call for Smith the last two years, setting Indiana Grand Quarter Horse records for most wins by a jockey in both 2020 (36) and 2021 (38). Mendez won with 27% of his mounts in 2020 and 28% in 2021.
Smith is the all-time leading Quarter Horse conditioner at Indiana Grand and has been the track’s leading trainer every year since 2015.
During one of his tape recorded interviews with Morris, Mendez is said to have turned over a photograph “purportedly showing the Facebook page of Felipe Becerra.” The complaint states that “Mr. Becerra is the individual that Mr. Mendez alleges manufactured and sold him the machine…”
Mendez has 20 days after the administrative complaint was filed to ask for a hearing. Additionally, Mendez had 10 days after the report’s issuance on Nov. 17 to provide materials to the commission that could be considered in mitigation of the recommended penalty. In that case, Pittman may at her discretion withdraw, amend or modify the complaint and penalty.
Mendez, a native of Mexico, began his career at Los Alamitos before moving to Indiana Grand in 2020. He’s won 134 of 781 lifetime mounts.
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