Happy New Year, and welcome to 2021.
While the holiday season normally is a quiet one for harness racing, that was not the case most recently. On the evening of Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act (HISA) was passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives as part of a 5,539-page omnibus spending bill. President Trump signed the bill into law several days later.
Here’s what every USTA member should know.
*HISA is scheduled to go into effect no later than July 1, 2022. The Federal Trade Commission will oversee a rule-making process that eventually will establish and approve the medication control and racetrack safety programs to be enforced by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (Authority). Letters have already gone out to Thoroughbred stakeholders asking recipients to suggest nominees for the Authority’s board of directors.
*The entity will be costly to the industry, but that price has yet to be determined. The new law stipulates that the Authority initially will be funded by loans taken out to fund its expenses, which will then be repaid by fees assessed to the state racing commissions. It is widely believed that a per-start surcharge will be implemented.
*The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) is identified within the new law as the medication control enforcement body that will be the foundation of the Authority.
*The new law does not specifically mention harness racing, and, indeed, some proponents of the legislation frequently questioned why the USTA was opposing a measure that did not include Standardbreds. However, the law contains an opt-in provision for each state racing commission to elect to have additional breeds covered by the law, and the financial implications for state racing commissions, as expressed clearly in a September press release from the Association of Racing Commissioners International (https://www.arci.com/2020/09/federal-bill-may-incentivize-states-to-defund-anti-doping-and-medication-rule-enforcement/), are such that many commissions will have no choice except to bring Standardbred and Quarter Horse racing into the federal fold.
*The new law effectively removes medication control from the state racing commissions. The commissions will continue to perform all other traditional functions, including licensing and general oversight. State racing licenses will still be required for participants, and it is likely that a national license also will be required for owners, trainers, etc.
*The new law specifies that all race day medication, including Lasix, is to be phased out and ultimately prohibited. It does allow for a Lasix study to be performed, but for any changes to be implemented, the entire nine-person board of directors must unanimously agree that the following conditions are met:
1. That the modification is warranted.
2. That the modification is in the best interests of horse racing.
3. That furosemide has no performance enhancing effect on individual horses.
4. That public confidence in the integrity and safety of horse racing would not be adversely affected by the modification.
Given that all four conditions are subjective, rather than objective, and that all nine handpicked board members, rather than a majority, must be in agreement in order for the policy to be changed, it’s probably safe to say that Lasix will be off the table in any harness racing jurisdiction that opts into the Authority.
*In addition to medication control, use of the whip/crop also would be regulated by the Authority as it is considered a racetrack safety issue. Other matters under the racetrack safety umbrella likely will include track surface composition and conditioning, in addition to pre-race examination and testing.
There remains a long road ahead as the enactment of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act is contemplated. The USTA, under advisement from its attorneys, remains convinced that the new law is unconstitutional, and has grave concerns about its potential impact upon the harness racing industry. The Association continues to evaluate this issue and explore its options. Further developments will be reported as they occur.