Charles Scheeler, Chair, HISA Board of Directors
LEXINGTON, Ky.—The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, or HISA, was created by Congress in 2020 to implement, for the first time, uniform nationwide safety and integrity rules to govern Thoroughbred racing in America. It represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform a sport that in recent years has seen criminal conduct at its highest levels and welfare concerns about horse and rider safety that have raised questions about its viability.
Some horsemen have recently expressed a desire to scrap the substantial progress made over the last two years and start from scratch on safety and integrity reform. But after failing for decades to create uniform standards, we’ve finally made real progress and have momentum. In fact, early indications suggest that racing is already getting safer for horses. Starting over would be to risk losing all of that.
Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation being shared about HISA’s rules, including in a recent letter issued by the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA). As Chair of HISA’s Board of Directors, and someone who has previously been involved in transformational reform efforts in other sports, I’m pleased to have this opportunity to set the record straight.
1. HISA’s drug testing program will protect good-faith horsemen.
HISA’s draft Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) rules do exactly what the HBPA’s letter claims horsemen want them to do: establish entirely separate categories for permitted substances (i.e., Controlled Medications) that are allowed outside of the racing period and doping substances (i.e., Banned Substances) that should never be in a horse. The rationale is to severely penalize those who use Banned Substances, while being sensible and proportionate when it comes to accidental medication overages – and to prioritize clear, transparent, and fair due processes in either case. HISA also provides those charged with a chance to tell their side of the story via hearings and multiple appeal rights. The HISA policy is built to catch cheaters, not to victimize good-faith horsemen.
Additionally, for the first time ever, labs across the country will be testing for the exact same substances at the exact same levels. HISA’s testing program will only report positives that have the potential to impact the horse’s system. Rumors that insignificant picograms or environmental contaminants will always result in a positive test under HISA’s rules are entirely untrue.
The type of drug abuse we are trying to eliminate was on full display when more than two dozen arrests were made in 2020. It took outside investigators and the FBI to catch those cheaters because racing’s outdated state-by-state system was unable to do so. HISA will change this.
- HISA’s rules specifically seek to protect small racetracks and racing jurisdictions.
The HBPA’s letter erroneously implies that costs associated with HISA could lead to the demise of small racetracks. On the contrary, HISA’s rules specifically take small racetracks’ challenges into account by requiring those with higher purses to contribute more financially than those with lower purses.
- HISA has consistently sought feedback from horsemen across the country and continues to do so.
All horsemen’s groups – including the HBPA – received drafts of all proposed rules and had the opportunity to comment on them before they were submitted to the Federal Trade Commission. In fact, horsemen’s groups did submit feedback, much of which was then incorporated into the draft rules. HISA continues to seek feedback – formally and informally, including via our Horsemen’s Advisory Group, made up of trainers, owners, veterinarians and farriers from across the country.
Where issues around HISA’s rules have arisen, we have consistently engaged with racing participants to remedy them. HISA’s shoeing rule changed this past summer based on industry feedback, and we are currently working closely with the Jockey’s Guild on possible revisions to HISA’s crop rule.
Getting a federal law passed was a monumental accomplishment, and the progress and momentum since then has been astounding. Thoroughbred racing must take advantage of this moment. Change can be uncomfortable and often comes with growing pains, but the future of the sport depends on its evolution. Let’s find the courage to do this together.