Director’s Chair – March 2023

by Joe Faraldo, USTA Chairman of the Board

Focused Fight

Leadership paramount during threatening and dangerous times

If history has shown us anything, it’s that threatening times require leadership. And for the harness racing industry across the country, let’s not delude ourselves—these are seriously threatening and dangerous times.

Consider:

  • federal legislation designed to address Thoroughbred issues that’s ready to sweep us in as well and destroy our entire game;
  • the fight to supplant and eliminate live harness racing continuing unabated;
  • proposed drug testing and regulatory bodies and organizations continually threatening to cede harness racing’s power to Thoroughbred interests;
  • undefined and unlimited cost assessments to tracks and horsemen by HISA—a private entity—at over $70 million so far for the Thoroughbreds;
  • picogram thresholds set ridiculously low by groups entrenched in HISA, choosing optics over proven science;
  • elimination of the uses of important therapeutic treatments for horses, including Lasix; and
  • animal rights groups increasing their advocacy, generally against horse racing, with a complete misunderstanding of the differences between Standardbred and Thoroughbreds, since virtually none of the safety issues facing the Thoroughbreds are relevant to us.

In these challenging times, most of us in the USTA have stepped up to fight on the front lines and have made tough decisions on behalf of our members and our game. We know that this type of leadership brings with it criticism (it goes with the territory), but sadly much of the recent criticism has been directed at the president, chair and directors of the USTA.

 

Criticism is to be expected, but it has been unfairly personal and, frankly, counterproductive to all our collective interests. For the good of our industry, it’s time for the overwhelming majority of our members who understand the big picture here to step up as well and say “enough is enough.”

Sadly, a very small, but vocal, handful of individuals have been lobbing these criticisms at the USTA and its directors without any substance or objective rationale. One critic literally cited “gross negligence” by the directors, claimed we suffered from “insomnia,” and claimed that the “USTA membership feels isolated, neglected and poorly represented by the USTA!” (This statement is allegedly supported by one individual’s apparent concern with the “cumbersome method of participating in director elections and removals,” but couldn’t justify why this process was so hard for him—especially since it’s historically not been an impediment for countless other USTA members.)

In fact, on this point, if one looks at the facts, running for USTA director requires merely the filing of a petition signed by 25 voting members residing in one of the USTA Districts (USTA bylaws Section 4.02(a)). When I have suggested that all someone who is dissatisfied with the USTA board needs to do is file a petition and run for a seat and remove someone they are so dissatisfied with, the response is, “We only want accountability from our directors.”

Apparently, they don’t want to actually do the work or be subjected to the type of critiques we see on a regular basis, and only want us to agree with them. That, to one and all, is a cop-out that is insulting to the USTA leadership, each and every director who serves without compensation, and our collective commitment to supporting our sport. It is an insult to those stepping up and showing leadership on behalf of all of us who want and need our industry to survive.

 

Finally, I think it might be helpful to look at the issue of HISA—and our industry’s lawsuit challenging its constitutionality—as a concrete example of why these naysayers and attackers are simply wrong. While everyone is obviously entitled to his or her own opinion, no one is entitled to their own facts.

In the recent past, the USTA’s involvement in the litigation against HISA was lambasted as frivolous and a waste of money. Then, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit declared the law unconstitutional. On Jan. 31, 2023, the same court ruled that it was not going to reverse that decision when asked to do so by HISA.

The USTA board truly believes, based upon a vast amount of experience and knowledge, that HISA represents an existential threat to our entire game, and so not only did the USTA support the lawsuit against HISA, but USTA President Russell Williams—also president, CEO and owner of Hanover Shoe Farms—put up a ton of his own money to challenge it. This was done despite the naysayers suggesting that a lawsuit was the wrong approach and we should have put together “a team of negotiators” to help HISA understand our industry’s unique performance model and our needs. They failed to recognize that the USTA did,a in fact, fund and participate in such negotiations since at least 2013 with the same major players who are now in place at HISA—and that those negotiations went nowhere.

The misinformed are attempting to pin that failure on our collective leadership. No one was upset that the USTA spent money over those years for a seat at the negotiating table for separate treatment for our unique breed.

Another sideline critic—excluding those on the near-lunatic fringe and the “Monday morning quarterback” type—weighed in to suggest that he had the personal power to effectuate changes to HISA with his friends “Chuck and Nancy,” but he obviously either never had that power or chose not to use it. Either way, calling out the USTA president, chair and directors after the fact does nothing to move the needle on the actual concerns we have for separate treatment for our very different racing game—especially in light of the concrete actions we have taken and continue to take.

Make no mistake, we all should be on the same page in seeking fair treatment that fits “our” game. At the end of the day, despite such personal attacks and criticism—again, criticism that has been completely lacking in attacks on policy—the USTA leadership and directors have continued to fight, have put our money where our mouths are and are doing what’s best for harness racing across the United States.

Again, that’s called leadership!

Joe Faraldo

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 readerforum@ustrotting.com.

 

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