Director’s Chair June 2024

by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairperson of the Board

Caveat Emptor

Is HISA in practice actually helping horse racing?

Some members of our industry question why the USTA so forcefully opposes efforts to include harness racing in the bureaucratic nightmare called HISA and to put harness racing under its enforcement arm, HIWU. After all, with the words “integrity” and “safety” right in its title, how bad could the legislative scheme really be for Standardbreds?

In a word, devastating.

Shepherded through Congress by The Jockey Club, one harness track operator, and various other elite groups without dues-paying memberships, HISA is a dream come true for groups like PETA, and the goal will be to severely reduce the therapeutic treatment racehorses need and eliminate racing altogether.

Reading through the most recent HISA/HIWU release in the Federal Register, labeled “Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority Racetrack Safety Rule Modifications,” one can only conclude that the goal is to dissuade any person from having any interest in or anything to do with the sport.

 

As we have experienced of late, sophisticated laboratory testing can detect substances down to 1 picogram—that is, one trillionth of a gram. Positives are reported without the slightest regard or concern as to whether such an infinitesimal level of a substance is pharmacologically effective in a horse—much less a performance enhancer—or the result of innocuous, unavoidable contamination.

Recently, Dr. Mary Scollay, who was formerly the chief of the RMTC Scientific Committee and is now ensconced in that same role at HISA, indicated further folly was afoot when she stated, “If we have to test down to femtograms (one thousandth of a picogram), we will.” In other words, calling one femtogram of a substance a positive would mean finding one-quadrillionth (10-15) of a gram.

Sheer knee-jerk stupidity like this abounds in today’s Thoroughbred world. If you wonder why you consistently see headlines on our website reporting Thoroughbred trainers tagged with positives, read beyond to see the career-ending, years-long suspensions and five-figure fines meted out, and then understand that these rulings are practically irreversible given the towering cost of the farcical “due process” regimen built into the statute. Beyond the devastation that targeted licensees suffer, consider that as the general (non-racing) public is apprised of such actions, they will in turn clamor for the end of racing altogether.

Beyond the fact that the crowd on the so-called “integrity and safety” payroll shows no tolerance for any medication—even when there is no pharmacological or performance-enhancing effect on a horse—that mindset is, ironically, quite cruel to the animal. By denying veterinarians the use of therapeutic tools, the horses themselves are the ones who ultimately suffer.

Consider the vet who comes to treat your horse for next week’s race and now has to think about microscopic testing levels and how the life’s work and professional livelihood of its trainer can essentially be ended by what effective therapeutic treatment he or she—by training and experience—knows is otherwise necessary to be rendered. People who purportedly seek ethical treatment for animals are beyond insincere when they handcuff veterinarians and deny animals healing and curative treatment.

 

Besides the medication can of worms being opened by the HISA folks, consider that a catastrophic injury is now defined by the group as any instance where a horse happens to die within 72 hours of its last racing event, regardless of cause. That is without regard as to whether a horse dies of West Nile virus, rhinopneumonitis, colic, founder or anything else. In fact, one prominent Kentucky practitioner characterized this new HISA rule as “idiotic.”

Can the purpose of such foolishness be other than to make the game look inhumane, as the death of an active racehorse in its stall from any cause will be sold to a caring but otherwise misinformed public as due to a catastrophic injury borne of the cruelty of the game?

Even worse for the well-being of the horse, new rules would prohibit private veterinarians from drawing blood for the purpose of determining a horse’s soundness, such as for a pre-purchase exam (PPE). From yet another veterinarian, who served as the examining vet at the New York Racing Association racetracks, this represents “insanity, as one cannot verify a PPE as an evaluation of soundness without toxicology.”

As for HISA’s paperwork requirements, compliance is near impossible and totally impractical. Additionally, tracks will face additional cost, as will horsepeople on a per-start basis; and trainers and vets will come home from long days at work only to have to fill out endless arrays of informational journals.

 

If you can wade through this governing maze and still envision the existence of the sport other than as a private club, you are very much mistaken. If you are so naïve as to think you can have input in the process and its regulation, read the Federal Register to understand how many informed and knowledgeable commentators’ suggestions on the rules were outright rejected by the elite do-gooders that cloak themselves as the irrefutable bastion of uprightness in the sport.

We at the USTA spent money and long hours at negotiating tables with the previous generation of arrogant elite Thoroughbred interests, only to be told that our input was neither necessary nor welcomed.

If such horrendous rules are foisted upon harness racing, get ready for similar cataclysmic results as career-ending suspensions for femtogram positives, non-racing related fatalities attributed to racing, horses failing to get appropriate veterinary treatment—and all of this being broadcast to the public as the product of a criminal enterprise akin to cock fighting. It will effectively end the industry, as it did for greyhound racing and circus elephants.

If this is what some harness interests are looking forward to from HISA, count me out.

The views contained in this column are those of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the USTA. To comment on this column, email us at readerforum@ustrotting.com.

360 More posts in Hoof Beats Magazine category
Recommended for you
Recipe for Success

Managing older stallions means accommodating their quirks with excellent care by Kimberly A. Rinker In...