Denny Velazquez, one of the top jockeys at Canterbury Park, was suspended Wednesday by the Minnesota Racing Commission for allegedly possessing an electrical device and a gun in violation of state law.
Commission Executive Director Steve May said he could not discuss details of the case, including whether Velazquez used the electrical device — commonly called a “buzzer” — in any races.
Buzzers are used to shock horses to make them run faster.
The ruling bars Velazquez from the Canterbury Park grounds until a hearing before the Canterbury board of stewards, tentatively scheduled for next Thursday.
May said the racing commission has contacted Scott County law enforcement, which could pursue criminal charges including cruelty to animals. Tampering with a racehorse, including through the use of an electrical device, is a felony in Minnesota.
Velazquez has won 20 races and $337,791 in purses at Canterbury this season, ranking third in both categories. He has finished first in 22% of his starts, tying him with leading rider Ry Eikleberry for the best victory percentage among the track’s regular jockeys.
Minnesota law prohibits the possession of “any electrical or mechanical device or other appliance, other than an ordinary riding whip, that could be used for the purpose of stimulating a horse or affecting its speed in a race or workout.” The commission’s ruling also cited state law regarding the carrying of a weapon without a permit.
“We don’t take things like this lightly at all,” May said. “To protect all of our equine athletes and our human athletes, and the integrity of racing, these things are all taken very seriously.”
The racing commission is continuing to investigate the allegations. Its findings will be revealed at next week’s hearing, when the three stewards will determine whether to assess additional penalties. Those could include a longer suspension, a fine or potential referral to Scott County for possible criminal charges.
There is precedent in Scott County, May said, for animal cruelty charges against jockeys who have used buzzers on horses.
According to May, Velazquez is entitled to request a stay of his suspension until his hearing, but he has not done so.