Houston jockey suspended over accusations of animal cruelty

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- Any day there's a race at Sam Houston Race Park, you'll probably find Jack Coady there, snapping away. He's been a racing photographer for more than 40 years. Then, on January 17, he snapped a photo of race 9 that would soon be seen around the world.

The photograph showed Jockey Roman Chapa winning the race, but it's what he appeared holding in his hand that's set off a firestorm.

"The next morning, the investigator came to talk to me, wanted to see the photos on my computer," said Coady.

The photograph appeared to show Chapa holding an electrical device, which could be used (illegally) to give horses a jolt in the middle of the race. Chapa was immediately suspended from racing. Monday morning, The Texas Racing Commission held a hearing with state stewards and Chapa's attorney over whether his suspension should continue.

"This, the only meeting occurring in Texas at the present time, but he is suspended throughout the state," said State Steward J. David Rollinson.

The decision of whether to continue Chapa's suspension is the least of his worries. Last week, he appeared in Harris County Criminal Court. He is facing a felony charge of unlawfully influence on racing.

Meanwhile, at the race track, fans are disenchanted.

"It looked like he had something in his hand, a shocking device. If that's true, yea, that's cheating, whatever happens to him, he deserves it," said Weldon Walker, a regular at Sam Houston Race Park.

It's not Chapa's first brush with the law.

In 1994, Texas racing officials suspended him from racing for several months allegedly using a nail with a horse. In 2001, he was charged with animal cruelty for allegedly beating a dog. Court records show there was a plea deal and Chapa was sentenced to 10 days in jail. Then in 2007, New Mexico racing officials handed down a five year suspension to Chapa for allegedly using a similar electrical device.

"It's not fair for the jockeys, it's not fair for the people that's betting," said Lupe Ayala, another fan.

Depending on what happens in the court system and with the racing commission, the photo of Chapa on January 17 could be the final one ever of him as a jockey in a race.

Jack Coady never expected that. "For someone who is just doing his job, and for this to come off is a huge surprise."
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