by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairman of the Board
Lawsuits and ongoing efforts to fix a bad law
Editor’s Note: Please see page 19 to read about additional states which have joined a lawsuit against the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act.
While everyone in harness racing continues to seek more clarity on the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), I wanted to bring our industry stakeholders up to date on several lawsuits recently brought against the law and reinforce exactly why we must continue to fight to reform it.
The Act is facing two major lawsuits in opposition—one in Texas, brought by multiple Thoroughbred groups; and one in Kentucky, brought by the USTA, three state governments (Oklahoma, West Virginia and Louisiana) and various Thoroughbred horse racing plaintiffs. As of this writing there have been no decisions rendered, but we should expect that appeals will be inevitable, no matter who the initial round winners are. And in the end, these cases may even wend their way to the US Supreme Court as ultimate arbiter.
The USTA’s interests center around the elimination of race-day Lasix, which is scheduled to go into effect under the current version of the law in July 2022. The prohibition barring a vet’s use of this beneficial medication—which limits or prevents a horse’s suffering from exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH)—will be in place for three years from that date, while a study of Lasix is simultaneously undertaken during the same period.
The major issue we are facing is that even if that three-year study confirms Lasix is a valuable treatment for EIPH (which we horsemen and vets already know), its reinstatement can be stopped if only one member of the nine-person private entity, the Horse Racing and Safety Authority, votes to reject the study’s conclusion that Lasix is beneficial to the well-being of the racehorse. The Jockey Club has crafted this provision into the HISA law as a way to fully eliminate race-day Lasix, despite the fact that respected university studies have confirmed its value in addressing the deleterious effects of strenuous exercise on our equine athlete’s systems.
One has to ask who is the Jockey Club to demand the elimination of a proven, useful medication and set up this sham of a process? A process that includes both a study whose chosen conclusion will already be implemented before research is even completed and the requirement for a fully unanimous vote to reinstate its use. In our game we hear the expression “don’t put the cart before the horse,” but that’s exactly what the Jockey Club has done. They’ve essentially fixed this race on the Lasix issue—and have shown total disregard for the position of the USTA, horsemen and highly regarded pharmacologists—and we can kiss race-day Lasix goodbye unless the HISA is amended to honestly and accurately respect the welfare of the horse.
The Texas lawsuit shows that the vast majority of Thoroughbred horsemen are unafraid to voice their displeasure with the Jockey Club’s role and it’s clear that the majority of those who don’t train for this elite Jockey Club gang are clearly against HISA. But it’s obvious that the Jockey Club doesn’t care one iota about its own larger Thoroughbred community. This small handful of maybe 100 Jockey Club elites is dictating policy that impacts literally tens of thousands of racing and agriculture stakeholders across the country and is doing so with total disregard of their input and without any objective science around Lasix to back its conclusions. And that’s just wrong.
Beyond the issue of Lasix, however, is also the unresolved question of costs that will be assessed by this private entity to state governments and levied against industry participants. We all know that agencies—like the private entity created by HISA—tend to grow exponentially once they have the power to raise and spend money to protect their own interests. We already know that some members of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) and the Association of Racing Commissioners (ARCI) are lining up to support HISA in order to protect their roles and existing jobs. Unfortunately, this will also mean continued botched medication guidelines in the name of optics rather than medical common sense and what is best for the horse.
Worse for us specifically on the Standardbred side, these are some of the very same individuals who have been at odds with our performance model—so vastly different from the Thoroughbred industry’s—and disregarded our concerns and pleas for years. This is not about to change without remedial legislation, and don’t kid yourself into thinking that costs will go down (as some have laughably suggested), because they will assuredly skyrocket for our industry . . . without any controls and, worse, without any accountability. For example, the per-start liability will fall much more heavily on harness racing participants, as the reality is that our horses race significantly more often than our Thoroughbred counterparts.
And finally, on that same important point of different breeds and different performance models, remember that there is no separate scientific advisory committee for the creation of uniform harness rules—just a reference that the needs of other breeds will be considered. Over the years, and despite the USTA’s financing of entities like RMTC, regulators have sympathized and professed to understand our concerns but never actually acted to address any of them. Sadly, one can now expect the same treatment under HISA, which will impose Thoroughbred rules on us even though our industries are so different (on everything from the use of medication to the differences in our track surfaces).
So, while bad laws can be passed, they can also be amended and the USTA has drafted a constitutionally acceptable amendment to satiate our concerns for the protection of our industry. We should all be working to get these amendments implemented.
For now, the first step—and the most immediate leverage we have—is the pending lawsuits, which can trigger that reform for the good of the Standardbred horse’s welfare and the Standardbred industry. We will keep you updated as these cases move forward and you can be assured the USTA is remaining as engaged and vigilant as possible to protect you and our game. We are seeking separate treatment for our breed and have offered a proposal that would ensure that we get more than lip service. We are entitled to that and need to make sure it is in the law.
The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association. To comment on this column, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.