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A tragedy that occurred in 2019 exposed the danger of this practice.
Now that the House of Representatives is investigating the operation of the horse-riding industry in Puerto Rico, it would be helpful if you also take a look at a life-and-death issue involving your horses: the irregular practice of transporting race horses by sea from the United States to Puerto Rico.
The sensitive issue is well known in the horse racing industry because there is litigation in federal courts involving one of the horse owner groups, the Horse Racing Confederation of Puerto Rico. The Confederation is plaintiff because some of its horses died in the crossing by boat or after it from Jacksonville, Flórida to San Juan.
The president of the Confederation, Luis Orraca, deposed two weeks ago in the Chamber hearings that his Recreation and Sports Commission and its president, the representative José ‘Che’ Pérez, make. Orraca or Pérez did not address this issue.
The subject is also known in the United States because it was exposed this month and for the first time by the equestrian magazine Blood Horse.
The purchase of horses in the United States by Puerto Rican investors for races in Puerto Rico is common. Most of the horses at the Camarero racecourse are imported. Transportation to Puerto Rico occurs by sea and air. The first is cheaper.
At the government level, the Secretary of Agriculture, Carlos Flores Ortega, is also aware of the issue and of the deaths of individuals raised by the litigation.
“I am aware from the moment the horses died,” said Flores Ortega about the events that occurred in 2019.
In fact, Flores Ortega said that the department’s veterinarian, Alejandro Pérez, is cooperating with the investigation of the litigation.
Nine race horses died in the facts. Of the nine, eight perished in the container in which the Tote company was transporting them to Puerto Rico, Blood Horse revealed. Another was put to sleep after leaving the transport.
The horses belonged to the Confederation and were processed for transportation by the Hermanos Ruiz company, according to Blood Horse. All were placed in a redesigned container for better ventilation for animals during the trip and waiting time at the docks.
The practice of transporting horses by sea has a long history, but it does not appear to be regulated.
The Secretary of Agriculture told Primera Hora that the only function of his Department is to provide a veterinarian to inspect the health of the horses at the entrance to Puerto Rico, among other charges, alive. Flores Ortega assured that Agriculture is not responsible for authorizing the transportation of animals.
Meanwhile, the Gaming Commission of the Government of Puerto Rico, which regulates local horse riding, does not have regulations for the maritime transport of horses, said its executive director, José Maymó Azize.
And the plaintiff in the death of the horses, the president of the Confederation, Luis Orraca, said that he does not know if any government agency has a regulation for that practice.
Both Maymó Azize and Orraca indicated Agriculture as the agency that receives the specimens at the docks. Maymó Azize said that since the accident, his agency prohibits the maritime transportation of horses purchased with public funds, which he grants to the owners to purchase copies.
Several Primera Hora sources understand that maritime transport of race horses has continued after the tragic accident. Shipping company Tote Maritime told Blood Horse on June 1 that it discontinued that type of transportation. Tote officials did not reply early Sunday whether they have transported more racehorses since the accident.
Orraca said that he did not address the issue of equine transportation that affects him because he has an ongoing lawsuit before the House Commission.
The Commission chaired by Pérez has been investigating, above all, the use of video game machines that generate bets on horse racing. In particular, it investigates the distribution of the profits of the machines for the different sectors of the industry, according to the government regulation approved in 2007 and amended in 2014.