Protecting the American racehorse; an Op-Ed from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry

Editor’s Note: Following is an Op-Ed from Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry

Baton Rouge, LA – When the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) was jammed into the COVID relief package and passed by Congress in the dead of night, we were told that it was for our own good and the good of America’s racehorses. Despite the fact that the states have successfully managed horse racing for two centuries, we were told by industry elites that uniformity was necessary to protect the health and welfare of the racehorse. In response, Churchill Downs quickly adopted HISA safety rules and was in full compliance during the Kentucky Derby — the first major race run under these new regulations. The result? In the aftermath of the Derby, twelve racehorses were dead. By September of this year, that number had risen to at least twenty-five.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry supports the Racehorse Health and Safety Act. Photo courtesy of Jeff Landry website.

When my office first pushed back against HISA, we were flooded with calls from political insiders who warned us not to get involved. It didn’t matter that HISA was drafted behind closed doors without widespread industry representation, or that its tremendous financial burden — an estimated $66 million in fees in 2023 alone — would put many generational breeders, trainers, and racehorse owners out of business. It didn’t matter that a private corporation would implement this program while keeping its operations and communications secret from the industry, or that its rules were based completely on public perception rather than actual science. It didn’t even matter that our office knew that HISA was unconstitutional — these elitists were hell bent on pushing it through, resulting in chaos, confusion, and the unnecessary death of American racehorses.

Lo and behold, despite all the grandstanding and potentially good intentions of those who lobbied for HISA, its implementation has been an absolute failure by every metric. In pushing a one-size-fits-all program that effectively grants control of an entire industry to a handful of elites within a private entity, the federal government’s plan has not only collapsed from underneath it, but it was also ruled unconstitutional by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And now the time has come to discuss what happens next.

That is why I am proud to support efforts to repeal and replace HISA with the Racehorse Health and Safety Act of 2023 (RHSA). Instead of one-size-fits-all, RHSA offers scientific medication control and safety rules for each unique breed: Thoroughbred, Standardbred, and Quarter Horse. It respects the differences between these three communities and actually involves individuals from those disciplines. RHSA has also crafted rules based on breed-specific science and peer-reviewed studies, as well as widespread industry feedback and expertise. If passed, RHSA would create a completely transparent governmental organization that would make its budget, meeting minutes, and communications open to the public. And instead of placing a harsh financial burden on those who work the hardest and receive the least, RHSA will utilize state racing infrastructure and resources to keep costs low.

Designed by horsemen and for horsemen, RHSA also takes its direction from the U.S. Constitution and gives regulatory power to an entity appointed by the states. That means no more grappling over foam whips and counting strikes, or debates on toe grabs and horseshoe shortages. It means industry representation rather than oppression, and uniformity in safety without compromising our differences. More importantly, it means security for horsemen rather than chaos and uncertainty for these hardworking Americans.

That is how we will save our horses: not through secret meetings and votes in the dark of night, but through transparency, open dialogue, and wisdom shared among industry leaders. HISA, for all its pomp and circumstance, never offered us solutions. For many horsemen, it only created illogical problems. That is why our office took the matter to court, and we will continue fighting all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary. However, if RHSA is passed by Congress, it will immediately repeal and replace HISA, allowing us all to get back to what we really love: the beauty and excitement of horse racing.

For those of us who have been in this fight from the very beginning, I think we can all agree, protecting the American racehorse is what matters most. That is why I firmly support RHSA as the next step forward.

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