Illegal horse racing facility used 9-year-old jockey

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An alleged illegal race track in San Clemente, which reportedly used a 9-year-old child as a jockey, has been shut down after the arrest of the property owners and track operators.

The couple, Susan Renova, 54, and her husband, Anselmo Renova, 56, both of San Clemente, were arrested during a traffic stop on Nov. 20 in Santa Fe County, said Valencia County Sheriff Louis Burkhard.

The warrant for their arrest was issued on May 30.

During that six-month gap, law enforcement officers observed the track, both in person and by using confidential informants, to determine what, if any, illegal activities were taking place on the west mesa property, just off of N.M. 6.

The criminal complaint describes a well-outfitted, well-maintained "fortified compound" at 25 Emilia Lane, where horse races were hosted about twice a month.

A tire barrier five-feet high and four-feet thick surrounded a set of starting gates and graded area of loose soil that simulated the racing surfaces of professional horse racing facilities, the complaint reads.

Entrance fees to the track varied, from $30 per vehicle to $10 to $30 a person, according to the complaint. Undercover officers observed that the majority of the hundreds of people at the property were there to gamble on the horse races.

"This point is further made in the fact that there were a set of terms ("faja," "quatra," and "todo"), used to loosely designate the relative level of a given wager proposed …," the complaint reads.

The affidavit also referenced a 2012 investigative story produced and broadcast by KRQE that claimed narcotics were bought and sold during the events.

The complaint says a confidential source was approached during a race by an individual offering to sell them $20 of a controlled substance — exactly what the person was selling was not specified, the document notes.

Through their surveillance, officers and informants reported the horses made to participate in the races "are adorned with the chosen colors of their particular owners, or team of owners."

The jockeys wore colored uniforms, helmets and torso protection, as would any jockey participating in a sanctioned event, the affidavit said.

There was even a protocol for re-entry to the track after the race was run. The winning horse and rider entered first, giving the horse and its team, as well as family and friends, the opportunity to gather on the track, surround and animal and rider, and take trophy photographs to document the occasion.

The criminal complaint states there was a photographic device at the finish line, similar to what is used at sanctioned races, to document the finish and quell potential disputes over the outcome. Those photographs and videos of the races can be readily viewed online on YouTube, the complaint said.

Again referencing the coverage by KRQE, the affidavit says the news station's footage showed open gambling, documented the price of admission, in addition to what appeared to be performance-enhancing substances being administered to the horses, apparent narcotics exchanges, alcohol consumptions, violence between participants and a jockey being used at 9 years of age.

In April, two undercover officers entered the property after each paying $10. That money was collected by Susan Renova, the complaint said. She was seen placing the cash in a small bag.

After entering the property, the officers were approached by a man known as "Chemo," who was eventually identified as Anselmo Renova. As he talked with the officers, it became apparent that they were approached because they were identified as newcomers to the event.

The affidavit says when one of the officers made a comment to "Chemo" about the misfortune of their wagers, Anselmo said no gambling took place at the property.

"However, at another point in time during the event, one of the officers overheard 'Chemo' make a wager of '… double or nothing …' with another individual," the complaint reads.

After discussion with the officers about purchasing horses, "Chemo" gave them his phone number and told them to give either himself or his wife, Susan, their number before leaving.

Late in May, the undercover officers made arrangements to meet with "Chemo" to gather more evidence of illegal gambling.

At that meeting, the complaint says, Anselmo talked openly about the property being used for gambling on horse races. According to the documents, Anselmo told officers he and Susan had lived on the property for about five years.

He told the officers he was inspired by horse races he used to attend in Mexico and decided to establish his own operation. Anselmo told them he built the starting gates personally, and specifically designed them to be somewhat wider than the standard.

"Renova seemed to be quite proud of this fact, as he allowed the officers to take pictures of the apparatus," the complaint states.

A race in May drew about 400 people, Anselmo told the officers, but during a particularly popular race, he could draw 1,000 people.

The affidavit states he boasted that during a past race, they tripled the gate price to $30 per person, and collected a return of roughly $75,000. During that same race, the owner of the headlining horse walked away with a profit of nearly $140,000.

The couple made their first appearance in court Wednesday morning before Los Lunas Magistrate John "Buddy" Sanchez. The Renovas were escorted into the court room in orange jumpsuits and shackles. Each were being held on a $50,000 cash bond. They are both charged with commercial gambling in connection with the illicit race track.

Albuquerque attorneys David Serna and Greg Gahan, representing Anselmo and Susan respectively, asked that their clients be released on their own recognizance, in light of the holiday season.

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Sandness said the state had no objection to the couple being released.

Sanchez stipulated the Renovas could travel within the state, and if they wanted to leave the state or country, they had to notify their attorneys and sign an agreement of extradition.

Sanchez also warned them to steer clear of trouble while they are free.

"No incidents or arrests, no gambling," Sanchez said. "You're not allowed to do anything at this time."

Serna and Gahan said they would advise their clients as to the limitations of their release.

The judge also ordered the criminal complaint unsealed. It had been temporarily sealed at the request of the district attorney's office, Sanchez said.

Neither Sandness nor the defense attorneys had been privy to the information in the criminal complaint until that time; both requested the records be unsealed.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.