View From The Eighth Pole: Getting Ready For HISA – Horse Racing News

“Ready or not, here I come!”

That battle cry from the children’s game of Hide and Seek could also serve as the mantra for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, the racetrack safety portion of which will go into effect on July 1, as mandated by federal law. The Anti-Doping and Medication Control portion of HISA now has a deadline of Jan. 1, 2023, to get up and running.

The 18-month implementation timeline from Dec. 27, 2020, when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act became law with then-President Donald Trump’s signature, was always going to be a challenge. A nominating committee had to be formed to identify nine individuals who would serve on the HISA board of directors. Under the law, five board members had to come from outside of racing, with the remaining four industry representatives not having current investment or active engagement in the sport that could present a conflict of interest.

That board, along with two standing committees on safety and medication, was charged with drafting national rules on a broad swath of issues currently defined and regulated by the dozens of state racing commissions that have overseen racing for decades.

The board also launched a search for a chief executive for the organization, eventually landing Lisa Lazarus, who was named HISA’s CEO in January 2022, officially beginning her duties about four months ago. An attorney with extensive experience in international sports law, Lazarus previously served as general counsel and chief of business development and strategy for the Federation Equestre Internationale. She was with the National Football League for nearly 10 years before that, helping negotiate collective bargaining agreements and serving as chief of business development and strategy.

Lazarus told the Paulick Report on May 19 that HISA is “on target to be really quite successful” with its July 1 launch on safety regulations. I hope she’s right.

There are challenges, to be sure.

First and foremost, while HISA – an independent non-governmental agency – prepares to become the national authority on racing regulations, its very legitimacy is being questioned in a pair of federal lawsuits: one that is being appealed after a Texas judge ruled in favor of HISA’s constitutionality, and a second suit filed in Kentucky that has yet to be heard. It’s unfortunate that a group like the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and some of its state affiliates have stubbornly attempted to block progress toward having one set of rules that apply to all Thoroughbred horsemen and racing. Fighting the two lawsuits has cost precious time and resources HISA could use elsewhere.

Secondly, under HISA’s technology director Steve Keech – a former executive with AmTote International and its parent company, The Stronach Group – the organization is building what HISA board chairman Charles Scheeler has described as a “transformational database.” The database will house registrations of “covered” persons (everyone currently licensed as an owner, trainer, jockey, backstretch worker) and “covered” horses, plus veterinary records, detailed injury reports of horses and baseline concussion tests for jockeys, among other things . Jockeys will need to have physical examinations and baseline concussion tests done by July 1.

There is a significant amount of data to collect before July 1, and limited time to do it. Many of those “covered persons” who must register currently are unaware they will be required to do so.

The clock has also been ticking on regulatory agreements between HISA and state racing commissions or other government entity that would, among other things, have stewards and regulatory veterinarians enforce HISA rules. Lazarus said only a few states have signed those detailed agreements but added that there have been productive discussions with 80 percent of racing states.

“I can say that we are engaging with the vast majority (of states),,” Lazarus said, though it’s been difficult to engage with states that are suing to put you out of business. “Ultimately what’s happened is when we sit down and talk with them, we say, ‘We didn’t write the law. The law is what it is. HISA has been asked to implement it. We’re kind of in the same position as regulators. It’s federal law. We’ve got rules to enforce, so let’s just work together.’ Most of the people we’ve had these conversations with have been receptive.”

In states that have not signed those agreements, HISA will need to supply its own steward and veterinarian to enforce rules, with the cost going back to the tracks in those states.

“Some of the states approached us by saying, ‘What’s in it for us?’” she said. “At the end of the day, my answer, albeit gently, is, ‘It’s federal law, we don’t have a choice. But if you work with us, what’s in it for you is your racetracks are not going to get a bill for no reason and be upset with you. Once we’ve had those conversations, most racing commissions have seen that it makes sense to at least figure something out.”

The regulatory agreements “are really about accessing existing staff and resources within the state racing commissions,” Lazarus added.

The regulatory agreement is separate from the financial agreement signed by four states – California, Colorado, Kentucky and Minnesota. This agreement calls for the state racing commissions to collect on HISA’s behalf the fees the states are being assessed by this new organization. Without the financial agreement with racing commissions, tracks will be on the hook to pay.

Unlike the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance, where track accreditation is voluntary, HISA’s Racetrack Safety Program accreditation will be required if tracks want to participate in interstate simulcasting. At the outset, tracks with NTRA accreditation will have a three-year provisional accreditation. Tracks that were not accredited with NTRA will only get a one-year provisional accreditation from July 1, giving them time to meet the Racetrack Safety Program requirements.

HISA has pushed back two deadlines from July 1 to Aug. 1.

The first was the shoeing rule prohibiting traction devices like toe grabs or mud calks in racing and training. The delayed implementation, Lazarus said, was a “supply chain” issue. There were concerns about inventory of racing plates that comply with the rules.

The other one-month delay is the requirement that jockeys use a cushioned riding crop that conforms with HISA standards. That postponement is also due to the availability of enough of the cushioned crops by July 1.

The rule restricting how the crop is to be used and how many strikes are permitted will go into effect on July 1. Penalties for violations of the new riding crop use rules may include loss of purse to the jockey and disqualification of the horse and loss of purse to the owner.

HISA is a heavy lift for an industry that is reluctant to change. Over the last few decades I’ve seen previous initiatives destroyed over bloated egos, territorial turf wars and personality conflicts. The difference here is that this is a federal mandate, and unless the courts strike the law down, HISA is here to stay, for better or worse. Cooperation from state racing commissions and individuals and organizations from throughout the industry can help make it better.

That’s my view from the eighth pole.

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