As strong debate has followed the July 1 implementation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s safety rules, executive director Lisa Lazarus notes that, for her, the encouraging story behind that clamor is an acceptance of the initiative overall.
Lazarus made that point during a spirited call for unity behind HISA while speaking Aug. 14 in Saratoga Springs, NY, at The Jockey Club’s Round Table Conference on Matters Pertaining to Racing. Besides launching its oversight of racing’s safety issues this year, HISA will start oversight of anti-doping efforts, drug testing, and labs beginning Jan. 1.
“When people come up to me and they tell me, ‘I don’t like your shoeing rule,’ or ‘I don’t like your crop rule,’ for me that means that they’re supporting HISA because they’re engaging with us about what’s best for the program; how we can be the best version of ourselves,” Lazarus said. “That overriding principle—that we need one national uniform body for regulating safety and integrity—that is a principle that must be, and has to be, accepted by our industry.”
That said, Lazarus also acknowledged that actual opposition of HISA’s implementation continues, with four lawsuits being the most visible form of that resistance. Lazarus said that HISA has spent $1.8 million defending itself in court and reminded everyone that the industry ultimately will pay that bill.
“Unfortunately, we’ve spent an enormous amount of time and industry resources defending HISA against lawsuits,” said Lazarus, adding that not a single challenge to HISA’s constitutionality has been successful, while crediting the legislators who crafted it. “As you all know , HISA is industry-funded. So these lawsuits are ultimately being paid for by the industry and, ironically, in part by the entities suing us. This is really a shame.
Sign up for BloodHorse Daily
“This is their industry dollars that could be spent on positive reforms to make racing safer. It’s deeply disappointing because there’s so much you could do as an industry through unity, which as I said is one of the core guiding principles that I am passionate about .”
In his closing remarks, The Jockey Club chairman, Stuart Janney III, reviewed some of the court cases and noted that HISA’s constitutionality continues to be recognized. He said that even a ruling by a Louisiana federal district court, which would see HISA voluntarily adjust to meet legal standards on issues such as the definition of a covered horse and search-and-seizure rules, acknowledges HISA’s constitutionality.
“The Louisiana federal district court nevertheless acknowledged that the implementation of the Authority’s rules cannot be stopped,” Janney said.
As HISA moves forward, Lazarus emphasized that safety and anti-doping rules will continue to evolve. She said she values collaboration and that the organization is open to dialogue with any group that approaches in good faith. Furthermore, Lazarus noted that HISA will soon form some advisory groups—including a horsemen’s group—to enhance the engagement of stakeholders on important issues.
“Our sport is unique and we will approach the future development and evaluation of the rules with a sense of humility and appreciation for the wealth of experience and expertise that resides among industry members,” Lazarus said.
As HISA works on those collaborative efforts, it’s clear that its supporters have tired of the ongoing litigation. Janney defined the opponents of HISA that have filed the lawsuits as “politically charged states, rogue horsemen’s groups, and surprise, surprise, the Jockeys’ Guild ,” Janney said.
That horsemen’s group referenced is the national Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, the largest such group in the country. At its convention in the spring, national HBPA CEO Eric Hamelback said his organization has concerns about the legality of HISA. Opposition from the Jockeys’ Guild largely has been generated by its concerns about riding crop rules, both in terms of their use and the equipment itself.
Janney outlined a number of benefits for riders under HISA.
“Each track will have a medical director to oversee jockey health and safety. (There are) uniform standards for (treating) concussions and return-to-ride protocols, mandatory insurance and medical information requirements, as well as regulations that promote equine safety, ” Janney said, calling HISA a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to benefit riders on safety issues.
The high stakes involved when it comes to oversight in safety and anti-doping was outlined earlier in Sunday’s Round Table when The Jockey Club president and COO, Jim Gagliano, interviewed retired FBI agent John Penza, who was involved in a horse racing investigation that would lead to the 2020 indictments of more than two dozen people. Many of those indicted—including once prominent trainer Jorge Navarro—have been convicted.
Penza now is the director of international investigations with 5 Stones, an investigative company hired by The Jockey Club in 2016 to examine the sport. Its work also played a role in the indictments.
“When you have individuals that have shoes that say ‘Juice Man’ on them—individuals that are not afraid to put (those shoes) up in their barn—there’s something wrong,” Penza said of Navarro. “Do I think that that behavior is going to continue? Absolutely not.”
Penza said the introduction of HISA overseeing the sport on a national level is the reason he believes change will take place. He said the Authority will be well positioned to investigate any concerns or complaints about potential cheating.
Tom Rooney, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said HISA provides the best opportunity to assure the public that racing is protecting horses and running a clean sport.
“If horse racing is going to continue to be successful in future years, the public needs to be assured that things like racetrack safety—based in part on the NTRA’s Racetrack Safety and Integrity Alliance—uniform standards for anti-doping and medication, and a high degrees of integrity are our highest priorities.
“HISA is working to do all these things and more. It’s important that we give Lisa Lazarus and her team the chance to be successful because her success means the success of Thoroughbred racing as a whole and maintaining the sport for future generations.”
In his presentation on the activities of The Jockey Club, Carl Hamilton, president of The Jockey Club Information Systems, noted that it has developed software, EquiTAPS, that makes it easier to meet new requirements on tracking equine veterinary treatments. He also noted that Equibase provided data to HISA to help it shape its rules.
In a recorded message, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, noted that HISA ensures racing’s future “will be bright for years to come.” Noting the huge economic impact on his state and others, Schumer said it’s important that the industry be healthy and strong.
Lazarus called for some time and grace as HISA puts everything in place, but she pointed to increases in handle at key meets and strong recent sales as evidence that HISA is bringing new optimism to racing. She concluded by saying that while she’s not a bettor, she’s putting her money on HISA. The audience reacted with a standing ovation.
Janney concluded his remarks with one final endorsement: “Folks, it’s time to get together on HISA; it’s good for the sport. HISA is legal and HISA is here to stay.”