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If you’re reading this, you have some knowledge of the new Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority regulations which went into effect July 1.

Created by federal legislation passed in 2020, the authority and its various components are meant to create uniform and meaningful structure to national racing regulations – covering racetrack safety, anti-doping and medication, and other areas. The first step of HISA regulation involved registering equine and human participants into the new system, plus implementing racetrack safety rules.

Anti-doping and medication will wait until next year, but other regulations about horseshoes, riding crop use for jockeys, veterinary records and treatments, claiming and such went into place this summer. As the deadline loomed, nearly 40,000 participants were registered, and 20 states under HISA authority were in the process of reaching an agreement or understanding on implementation of the new law.

Of course, this being American Thor-oughbred racing, it’s a work in progress. How could it not be, with racing regulated by the various state racing commissions for decades?

HISA is being challenged in court by the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association while the Thor-ough-bred Horsemen’s Association sent a lengthy response to HISA’s draft of anti-doping and medication control protocol and related regulations. The racing commission in Texas rejected HISA’s first steps, costing state tracks a simulcast signal (import and export). That puts the entire Texas Thoroughbred industry at risk.

At Belterra Park in Ohio, stewards incorrectly disqualified a horse for pari-mutuel purposes because a jockey violated the new HISA rule for whip infractions. Whip rules are meant to be enforced for purse money only, and are not meant to impact wagering payoffs. At Colonial Downs in Virginia, three steeplechase jockeys were fined and suspended for violating the HISA whip rule though in other areas steeplechase races are not included in HISA’s early implementation.

Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred has not devoted much space to the HISA rollout, mainly because of the fluidity (see previous paragraphs). There are federal and state court cases brought by opponents, and an open letter written by a supportive horsemen’s group with critical feedback. Other pieces seem to jump on and off the drawing board, or at least be subject to change and interpretation. That makes covering HISA with any kind of depth or quality difficult in a monthly magazine, though we did attempt to schedule an interview with HISA board chair Charlie Scheeler (a retired Maryland attorney and federal prosecutor) last year and were rebuffed.

You can find up-to-date information about HISA, and I’d encourage anyone connected to racing to do so, at hisaus.org. Go, click, read, be informed. If you’re an owner, trainer, jockey or other “covered” individual, ask your state’s horsemen’s association or breeders’ organization for help.

On the website, there are handbooks for trainers, regulatory veterinarians, attending veterinarians, educational materials and even a link to a Paulick Report video interview with HISA’s Lisa Lazarus and John Roach.

I want HISA to work. It pretty much must work. It might be the last, best big step racing can take. The days of state-by-state racing regulation of the major issues – doping, medication, penalties, officiating, horse welfare, jockey safety – should end. There should be a national governing body, with real impact. Medication, anti-doping, licensing, penalties for violations and all the other bits and pieces should be uniform across all racetracks – or, if it must be, uniform through various tiers. A horse running in Pennsylvania should be under the same regulatory and safety principles as one running in New York. The sport made massive progress – especially in the Mid-Atlantic – on uniformity across state lines before HISA (with a great deal of work and compromise). As an extension of that thinking, implemented nationally, HISA makes sense for the industry.

But, all that being said (or written), I also want HISA to make sense for industry participants and those first steps didn’t inspire confidence in the cohesiveness needed to make this work. It’s a big job, a really big job, so HISA organizers deserve some slack but horses, breeders, owners, trainers, jockeys, veterinarians, stable employees and so on need to know how this is supposed to work. Some worry that HISA regulation will mean fewer racing opportunities. That’s a real concern. And people in racing feel real pressure, every day, to make their businesses work – and to balance equine performance with equine health/safety/regulation.

If I were in charge, and clearly I’m not, I would have hammered out more industry buy-in – laugh all you want, but this would look different without lawsuits, dug-in racing commissions and horsemen’s groups and bad stewards’ decisions – before HISA came to be. Alas, this being horse racing, that task was probably impossible and here we are.

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