Jockey accused of cheating in race at Sam Houston Race Park appears in court

Photo of winning jockey leads to criminal charges

Photo credit: Jeff McShan
Photo credit: Jeff McShan

HARRIS COUNTY, Texas – A veteran jockey facing felony charges after being accused of cheating during a race at Sam Houston Race Park appeared in court at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center Friday morning. 

Roman Eric Chapa, 43, is charged with unlawful influence on racing.  He went before a judge and his case was reset.

The criminal investigation took shape after a photograph of Chapa taken near the finish line of the ninth race on Jan. 17 was widely circulated through the racing community. Chapa won the $50,000 race while riding Quiet Acceleration.

Race Park officials said the photograph was snapped by a man contracted to take photos of the races for promotional purposes. The photograph shows what appears to be a small beige object in Chapa's left hand.

Court records say the device seen in Chapa's hand delivers an electrical shock to the horse.

Race Park officials said the photograph of Chapa was chosen to accompany a news release promoting the day's races. Court records indicate that scrutiny of the photograph began shortly after Chapa contacted the photographer and demanded the picture be removed from the Race Park's website.

Investigators said the photographer told them Chapa did not give him a specific reason as to why he wanted the photograph removed, only that "it was a bad picture."

According to investigators, Chapa denies using the device during the race and claimed the picture was photoshopped because "someone was trying to frame him."

State records show in 1994 Chapa was fined $2,500 and suspended by the State Racing Commission for using a nail to spur his horse during a race at Trinity Meadows. State records show Chapa was also fined $100 by the Commission in 2012 for hitting his horse in the face during a race at Sam Houston Race Park.

Harris County records show Chapa was sentenced in 2002 to 10 days in jail after pleading no contest to a charge of beating a dog with a strap.

In response to the latest accusation, Sam Houston Race Park President Andrea Young sent a statement to Local 2 Investigates: "We are pleased to see the swiftness with which the Texas Racing Commission, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Harris County District Attorney's office have moved in their investigation of Mr. Chapa's January 17th mount at Sam Houston Race Park. These sorts of actions have no place in our sport, and are a disservice to the tens of thousands of people involved in our sport who play by the rules every day. We will continue to support this investigation in every way possible."

Statement from PETA Vice President Kathy Guillermo on Felony Charge Against Jockey Roman Chapa:

"PETA is relieved that the Harris County, Texas, district attorney has acted on evidence that Roman Chapa used an electric shock device during a race on January 17 and has filed a felony charge against the jockey. Chapa has also been suspended from racing twice for using shock devices, been suspended for using a nail on a horse, been fined for whipping a horse in the face, and served 10 days in jail on a plea agreement after authorities said he beat a dog with a strap. If Chapa is convicted, PETA urges all racing jurisdictions to ban him from riding permanently. According to its own report, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission failed to interview Chapa, even though Scott Blasi, assistant trainer to Steve Asmussen, was caught on tape joking about an incident in which Chapa hid a buzzer in his mouth: "That silly-(expletive) Roman Chapa put it in his mouth in New Mexico. They came in to shake him down, he stuck it in his mouth, then he spit it out in his wash bucket." Chapa has ridden nearly a thousand horses for Asmussen. PETA—once again—calls on the commission to look more comprehensively at this issue. PETA's full response to the commission's report on our investigation and the commission's omissions is forthcoming."