Golden Velvet, Darley Stable’s candidate for the March 9 Rampart Handicap (gr. II) at Gulfstream Park, and the dead-heat co-winner of the Sabin Handicap (gr. III) Jan. 6, was found after that race to have been “sponged,” track officials have announced.
Handlers of the 5-year-old mare found the sponge after detecting a strong odor, and they immediately contacted Gulfstream officials, according to a news release from the track. The discovery came days after Golden Velvet dead-heated with Lady Marlboro to win the Sabin, her second victory in three American starts since returning from campaigns in France and Dubai.
“Sponging” horses is a felony. A small piece of sponge is placed deep within a horse’s nostril to inhibit breathing, a practice that attempts to prevent the runner from performing at an optimum level.
“The integrity of this sport is extremely important to all of us in this industry,” said Gulfstream Park president and general manager Bill Murphy in the release. “This matter is under investigation by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and no compromises will be made as we protect the impeccable, better-than 70-year reputation this racetrack has earned and maintained.”
The DBPR is racing’s regulatory body in the state of Florida.
The strong odor that Golden Velvet’s handlers noticed indicated that the deterioration of the sponge was well under way when the sponge was discovered, the release said. Investigators say there is no way of determining when or where the mare was sponged.
Eventual charges may include cruelty to animals and attempting to influence the outcome of a horse race, among others, track officials said.