Delaware 'Sponging' Incident Probed

An Iowa owner said one of her horses was "sponged" before a race in Delaware.

Sandra Rasmussen of Des Moines, Iowa, has gotten a lot of joy out of horse racing, but now she has a little anger.

Rasmussen said one of her horses was apparently tampered with in a "sponging" incident at Delaware Park. A small sponge was found high up in one of the nostrils of her promising filly, Maren’s Meadow, after an Oct. 16 race.

Sponging compromises a horse’s breathing, and Maren’s Meadow finished third as the 9-10 favorite.

“It’s very disturbing,” Rasmussen said. “Why did they have to cheat? I am angry that they did that to her. They very well could have been jeopardizing the jockey’s life if she had run until she collapsed.”

Sponging surfaced with several cases in Kentucky in 1997 and there was also one in New Mexico, which resulted in a trainer being suspended for five years. In 2001, two horses were scratched prior to a race at Santa Anita Park when sponges were found in their nostrils.

Rasmussen said Delaware State Police are investigating the incident. She said trainer Larry Jones is certain that none of his help would have done it.

After the race, mucus started draining from Maren’s Meadow’s nostril. Her connections feared she had a tumor and sent her to the Rood and Riddle Clinic in Lexington. She was given 36 hours of antibiotics, but nothing changed, so the veterinarians decided to operate. They found something, but not what they expected.

“They were prepared to take out a tumor, and here was a sponge,” Rasmussen said. “It wasn’t a sponge like you have in a kitchen sink; it was a sponge with small, uniform holes. You couldn’t look into the nose without a scope and even see it.”

Rasmussen said her first emotion was relief. “If it had been a tumor, it very well could have been her life,” she said. “Even a benign tumor--if it was that close to the brain-- removing it could have killed or blinded her. I was so relieved that I still had her. Then I got mad.”

Jones has 24-hour security guards outside his barn at Delaware Park, so the question is who gained entry. Rasmussen said a diversion might have taken place. There are areas near the Delaware Park barns where trailers can be parked. A couple of nights before the race, a fire started in one of the areas, about 300 yards away from Jones’ barn.

“We think that perhaps there was enough of a disruption to distract the guard,” Rasmussen said. “It would have taken two people, one to hold the horse and one to administer the sponge.”

Maren’s Meadow had been fourth against some of the East Coast’s leading fillies in the Matron Stakes (gr. I) at Belmont Park prior to running in the Oct. 16 allowance race, which was restricted to fillies that had never won two races. She pressed the pace and tired in the stretch, beaten by 6 1/4 lengths.

“We thought she had a super chance that day,” Rasmussen said. “She didn’t show her usual speed and beat two horses in a five-horse field. I find it hard to believe it could happen in that small of a race. It just seems like a dumb little horse race.”