Watching the Wheels January 2024

High Stakes

Harness racing’s future hinges on success of Racehorse Health and Safety Act

by Mike Tanner, USTA Executive Vice President and CEO

 

Optics don’t save horses. Division doesn’t provide industry-saving solutions. And effective regulation doesn’t happen behind closed doors.

I could write a lengthy diatribe on all the reasons the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), which went into effect in July 2022, has failed horse racing. Beyond the fact that it was passed quietly with no debate or floor vote, the legislation has turned what was once, perhaps, a well intentioned effort to promote equine welfare and industry integrity into a debacle with disastrous effects on horses and the livelihood of dedicated horsemen nationwide.

In a time where we are often surrounded by more noise than thoughtful solutions, the USTA is leaning into the “why” and working diligently to inform our members of all that is at stake if we sit back and do nothing.

The USTA realized we needed a real solution to create unified rules for the industry, ensuring horsemen have a seat at the table. We took an active role in helping to develop the proposed Racehorse Health and Safety Act (RHSA), introduced by Rep. Clay Higgins in September 2023. The legislation has received bipartisan support in Congress and is gaining momentum as the industry demands change. RHSA is the solution that will lead to a brighter future for horse racing.

 

RHSA is better for horses. 

The care of the horses we work with is our top priority, and their well-being must always come first. The USTA stands firm that bad actors are not aligned with the values of the harness racing industry, and we support the need for cohesive measures to address situations that put horses at risk and place our passion and livelihood in an unfavorable light.

Taking a stand against HISA does not diminish our commitment to the well-being of horses. In fact, by introducing RHSA as a better alternative legislation, USTA is putting actions behind our words, offering a solution that takes the individual health and welfare needs of various horse breeds into account.

 

RHSA is rooted in science.

The decisions we make about caring for our horses should be guided by veterinary science, the expertise of horsemen with generations of experience, and our firm responsibility to do what is right for the animals in our care.

Unlike HISA, which bans the use of certain therapeutic medications trusted by veterinarians to minimize the risk of injury, RHSA embraces sports medicine as a means to ensure horses can race safely while not enhancing their performance.

RHSA is not based on optics and pandering to uninformed public perception. Rather, its rules are based on widely accepted scientific and peer-review studies.

 

RHSA is cost-effective.

By creating a compact of state racing commissions, RHSA will be able to utilize the current state racing infrastructure and resources as a funding mechanism, meaning it will not cripple the industry with exorbitant fees.

HISA is expected to cost horsemen more than $80 million in fees alone in 2024—a financial structure that is simply not sustainable. This is especially true if harness racing is incorporated into HISA, which could result in trainers and owners being assessed per-race fees. Since Standardbred horses race more often than Thoroughbreds, these fees could be higher for harness racing than for Thoroughbred racing and force many good people who share our commitment to excellent animal care out of the business.

 

RHSA is transparent.

Any unified regulations for the industry must incorporate accountability and transparency, which are key components of RHSA.

HISA is a private entity with no oversight. There is no one to stop them from increasing their budget or increasing fees—including covering the cost of their inflated salaries.

 

RHSA supports industry collaboration and representation.

RHSA was written by horsemen for horsemen and, therefore, has received widespread industry support. Additionally, the board structure under the proposed legislation is comprised of individuals representing each component of the racing industry. This is a much-needed departure from the current structure, where HISA Authority members are handpicked and do not own, breed or racehorses.

 

RHSA is constitutional.

Finally, RHSA is constitutional and gives regulatory power to a government-appointed entity, which is critical to ensuring decisions are made with public oversight. HISA, which was initially ruled unconstitutional by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in November 2022, continues to face legal challenges and could go before the U.S. Supreme Court. (Editor’s note: At the time this letter was published, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals had not yet ruled on a reconsideration of the constitutionality of an amended version of HISA.)

Together, we can close the chapter on this poor attempt at industry regulation and focus our efforts on finding a better way. I encourage you all to learn more about our outreach efforts by going to our website (https://ustrottingnews.com/stay-informed-why-the-future-of-harness-racing-depends-on-rhsa/) and sharing this information with other horsemen. I appreciate all the many organizations and legislators who have expressed support for the RHSA. Onward!

 

Mike Tanner

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

 

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