“We’ll push for positive change. Flawed HISA is not answer.”

December 15, 2022

Trainer Wesley Ward during a pre-Breeders’ Cup interview with Kentucky HBPA. (Video Screen Grab)

Horsemen’s open letter to the racing industry

National HBPA Release

The National HBPA was approached by trainers Wesley Ward and Larry Rivelli to help facilitate this open letter to the industry. While this is being distributed by the National HBPA, which also assisted in putting the letter together, the sentiments are those of trainers Wesley Ward, Larry Rivelli and the undersigned horsemen and racing participants. They encourage others who agree with this letter to add their name by using the link here. More than 400 have signed up in 24 hours just from word of mouth. Because of time constraints, not all the names have been uploaded to the document (linked to here and elsewhere) – but they will be.

We, the undersigned, commit to being part of the solution in making the industry we love better, safer and improved for the three entities that make it all possible: horseplayers, horse owners and especially the horses. 

In that regard, we believe the Horse Racing Integrity & Safety Act and the private Authority to which it delegates governmental powers has too many flaws, missteps and costs that could have been averted with true inclusion and transparency in its development. 

Time and time again over the last several years, trainers have been asked to change. When those changes were for the good of the horse and the industry, we changed and adapted without any questioning. We now need to rally together for additional true, positive and lasting change for the good then we are ready to do just that.  

However, meaningful change cannot be accomplished until the leadership of all stakeholders have real representation at the table — and from the beginning. That includes the National HBPA, America’s largest organization representing Thoroughbred owners and trainers; the Association of Racing Commissioners International, whose years of hard work on model rules should be the starting point rather than largely ignored; the racetrack veterinarians, and the Jockeys’ Guild. 

We have the opportunity now to get this right, with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruling HISA unconstitutional and the Federal Trade Commission declining to approve HISA’s drug and medication rules that were to go into effect Jan. 1. 

HISA is a wake-up call for the hard work of transformative change, though it is unfair to say there has been no change over the past couple of decades. There is far more uniformity than differences among racing jurisdictions.

Horsemen, including the National HBPA and its affiliates, have championed uniform rules based on sciencefor years. Change in horse racing has come rapidly when it makes sense and truly is for the better of the industry. How quickly did it take us to get rid of anabolic steroids? Very. 

We know horsemen can no longer sit on the sidelines, as many have done in the past, to now get this done right. We need to speak up, because we are experiencing the consequences when we do not. 

We are extremely concerned about the price tag of HISA threatening to put small tracks and small stables out of business because, simply put, they cannot afford the cost. Horse racing cannot survive on only the largest circuits and with only the largest stables. We need venues for all classes of horses and all sizes of stables in order to support a healthy, sustainable Thoroughbred industry.

Small tracks and stables are a vital part of American racing’s fabric, developing race fans and generations of future horsemen, and should not be considered as simply collateral damage.

Among other things we believe should be part of the dialogue as we work together: 

  • There must be transparency and representation in both developing and executing the rules. 
  • We, too, want stiff penalties for those succeeding in or attempting to circumvent the rules. But we also believe in due process.
  • Drug and medication policies that reflect the world in which we live, including the reality of environmental transfer and contamination of impermissible substances in trace levels that don’t impact a horse’s performance. We need to take a page from human testing, with reasonable, science-based screening levels. 
  • Gotcha” chemistry — finding a substance in single-digit picograms (parts per trillion) because today’s advance testing can — that ensnares innocent parties is not helpful. One source of any negative public perception of racing is because some in leadership have conflated beneficial therapeutic medications with illegal drugs.
  • Horsemen and jockeys must have more say in developing safety rules, including crop regulations. While science is important, racing will only benefit from policies that allow for input from horsemen and veterinarians in the trenches. 
  • We don’t need cost-prohibitive government overreach with burdensome paperwork that takes away from what should be our main focus: our horses.

We, the undersigned, are committing today to push our fellow horsemen, racetracks and racing regulators to unite for positive, inclusive change. We’ve gotten our wake-up call. We look forward to working with the other stakeholders in our great industry for change done right. 

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