By Bill Finley
The Monmouth stewards took no mercy on jockey Tomas Mejia, banning him 10 years and fining him $5,000 after they concluded he used a battery or electrical shocking device when riding Strongerthanuknow (Mineshaft) to victory in a Sept. 3 allowance.
In addition to the penalties, the stewards have referred the matter to the New Jersey Racing Commission and have recommended the permanent revocation of Mejia's license.
The ride on Strongerthanuknow was Mejia's first since a July 25 spill at Monmouth and the track photographer took a picture of him to commemorate the comeback win. The picture, which was posted on the Monmouth Facebook page, clearly shows Mejia holding an object, which includes two prongs, in his left hand that appears to be a battery. The picture was subsequently removed.
After the picture surfaced, the stewards ordered the jockey off all of his mounts last Friday. They held a hearing Wednesday and the 10-year ban was part of a ruling issued Thursday.
Thursday's ruling states: “Upon entering the winner's circle and prior to dismounting from the horse Strongerthanuknow on Sept. 3, 2021, Tomas Mejia was in possession of a prohibited electrical device.”
The stewards found that Mejia was in violation of a New Jersey Administrative Code, which reads: “No electrical, mechanical, or other appliance or device, other than the ordinary whip, shall be applied to a horse at any time, anywhere on the grounds of any licensed racetrack.”
The New Jersey Racing Commission does not allow its stewards to talk to the press.
“I don't really know about the evidence other than a photo that was going around Twitter,” said Mejia's agent, Robert Tuccille. “I wasn't at the hearing. I didn't know that any of this was happening. Tomas was always a very nice, pleasant kid and everybody liked him. As a person, the kid was truly a pleasure to work for. He was very nice and nobody ever said a bad word about him. It caught me off guard. But if it's all true, then the penalty is appropriate.”
Trained by Jorge Duarte, Jr., Strongerthanuknow won the race in question, defeating 4-5 favorite Mumbai (Street Sense) by a neck. After riding Strongerthanuknow to victory, Mejia won two more races before being removed from his mounts.
Strongerthanuknow is owned by Colts Neck Stables, and their principal, Richard Santulli, said, “We at Colts Neck Stables were dismayed to learn of this incident, and that this had occurred to one of our horses.” Santulli said that he preferred to withhold comment on the penalty.
Mejia, who turned 26 on Thursday, is a native of Panama who began his career at age 15 after attending the Laffit Pincay, Jr. Jockey Academy in his native country. His began riding in the U.S. in 2018 and has had 110 winners here. He has 19 winners at the Monmouth meet, tying him for 11th place in the standings.
“To get 100 wins to me it's beautiful, especially in this country,” Mejia said in June. “It is tough (to win) since there are a lot of very good jockeys. It is not easy to get to 100 wins, but that is my goal right now.”
He continued: “I want to be the top jockey, and a jockey who gets to 1,000 wins. My goal is that when they see me in races I want people saying, 'That's Mejia, that's my jockey.'”
In comparison to other penalties handed down to riders caught using a battery, the Mejia suspension was noteworthy for its severity. After getting caught using a battery aboard Valhol in the 1999 GI Arkansas Derby, jockey Billy Patin was suspended for five years by the Arkansas Racing Commission. In 2015, Roman Chapa was caught for the third time in his career using a battery and was suspended for five years and fined $25,000 by Texas Racing Commission stewards. Chapa was also caught after evidence surfaced from a picture taken by the Sam Houston track photographer.