Two horses were scratched at Santa Anita on Wednesday after it was detected that both had sponges in their nasal passages. As a result of the sponging incidents, the California Horse Racing Board has issued a memorandum to horsemen urging them to "be vigilant, increase security in their barns, and to closely examine all horses entered to race," according to the Los Angeles Times.
The horses scratched as a result of the sponging incidents were both fillies entered in the second race, a $40,000 claimer--Spiderette, the 2-1 morning-line favorite, and 6-1 shot My Sweet Lucy. The other four fillies in the race were checked for sponges; one other horse, Answerback, was scratched, resulting in only three starters in the race.
The Santa Anita incidents are reminiscent of similar cases in Kentucky and one in New Mexico in the late 1990s. A trainer was suspended for five years in connection with the New Mexico case.
In Kentucky, however, the number of sponging incidents led to legislation that stiffened the penalties for such acts. William Michael McCandless, a former trainer who had served prison time in connection with the 1977 theft of champion mare Fanfreluche, was identified as the prime suspect in the Kentucky sponging. McCandless, who had also served prison time in connection with a drug case, was the subject of a segment on the "America's Most Wanted" television program.
In a memo to horsemen, CHRB executive director Roy Wood said state vets would check the breathing passages of horses in pre-race inspections and urged all horsemen to immediately report any suspicious activity or unfamiliar people at their barns.
The CHRB is also requesting anyone with information about the sponging incidents to call a confidential hot line at 800-805-7223.