The long-awaited national program addressing drugs in horse racing with uniform rules and enforcement was implemented on Monday, March 27. Because of legal action filed by opponents of the new law, an injunction was issued and the federal agency overseeing it suspended it until May 22. While in effect for five days, the world did not come to an end in spite of the fear-mongering and apocalyptic rhetoric of those denying the evident need for reform in racing.
Leading the opposition over the years have been organizations such as the National Horsemen’s Benevolent Protective Association, some individual state HBPA’s and the Association of Racing Commissioners International. While their legal objections focus on the purported unconstitutionality of the Congressional legislation — the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act — the quarterly publication of the NHBPA I received recently presents different concerns.
An article by Tom Law and Jennie Rees in something called The Horsemen’s Journal has the sub-heading “Overreach of [HISA] permeates the horsemen’s gathering” of the first-ever (!!!) national meeting of the NHBPA and ARCI. It provides a wealth of comments by those opposing the law and none from anyone thinking reform is long overdue. Their opening sentence summarizes the tone of the sessions succinctly, referring to “discussions offering critiques and alternatives to costly federal regulations wreaking havoc throughout the Thoroughbred industry.”
Their so-called “alternatives” are both fanciful and delusional. They do not propose alternatives to the detailed regulations of HISA concerning either track safety or medication protocols, but rather — brace yourself — voluntary interstate compacts. The NHBPA’s General Counsel said such compacts allow for “responsive and quick resolution.”
There was no explanation for why their perceived obvious and meritorious solution had not been achieved in the more than two years since HISA became law, let alone since the NHBPA establishment in 1940 nor ARCI’s creation in 1934. There are, however, two possibilities. One is that neither organization sees the need for change. The other is that neither group truly represents the racing community beyond their own parochial interests.
While the NHBPA has the word “national” in its title, it consists only of “affiliate” organizations throughout the country, but not necessarily representative groups. Among the major racetracks not included are those in California, New Jersey, Maryland, the NYRA tracks and Gulfstream Park. They make no effort to solicit input from individual horse people. Indeed, this publication neither solicits opinion nor publishes views that detract from their party line.
The ARCI consists of racing commissions. While one panelist observed: “The bedrock concept of what curbs regulators is the fact that there’s transparency, there’s accountability. And HISA lacks that.” While that comment is from an attorney, he is not stating “facts,” but rather opinion. He obviously has never witnessed a session of the New York State Gaming Commission whose actions and “public” meetings are neither transparent nor accountable.
The only other state commission I am familiar with is that of California. Their public meetings are indeed public and sometimes lengthy (one lasted seven hours). Following a raft of breakdowns in 2019, Governor Gavin Newsom overhauled the Horse Racing Board that then came up with a number of positive changes improving the safety conditions for horses and humans. They have fully embraced the HISA reforms.
Other comments from the panelists were almost completely devoid of substance. One, from a “pro bono” law firm was almost Zen-like: “Uniformity should exist across jurisdictions, but uniformity should also exist across time.”
And despite all the fake concern about Constitutional standards, the bulk of the criticisms of HISA and the law were based mostly on personal grievances or imaginary issues. When they complain about horse people not being consulted, they mean they were not. The NHBPA CEO Eric Hamelback expressed it: “[W]e want to make sure the right participants are helping to make the decisions. I see it as the right participants are in this room.” In the decades I have been among the horse people they purport to speak for, I have never had my views solicited. Nor can I vote for officers, even though that is something I do in New York’s (unaffiliated) horse persons’ group NYTHA.
The hollowness, indeed, absurdity of the objections of the group were never better highlighted than in an issue of The Paulick Report where the Attorney General of Louisiana opined in an op-ed that “Louisiana horse racing has effectively policed itself for over 200 years” and did not need intervention.
While that comment undoubtedly raised many an eyebrow among horseplayers and observers of Louisiana politics, it ran alongside a report that State Police searching a trainer’s tack room at Delta Downs (in said state of Louisiana) had discovered “59 bottles of injectable medications, 352 hypodermic needles, 256 syringes and 75 packs of Albuterol Sulfate inhalation solution.” These items are considered “contraband,” yet a six-month suspension was stayed by the Louisiana Racing Commission pending appeals.
While AG Greg Landry, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, may cite this as an example of his state’s oversight of racing, we do not know how he would respond to the information that the trainer in question, James Tracy, was licensed by the Racing Commission even though he was under an indefinite suspension by Pennsylvania. As Paulick observed in a subsequent report: “so much for reciprocity from one racing state to another” — as required under existing requirements. Landry’s piece was featured prominently in this issue of The Horsemen’s Journal.
Landry and another opponent of the new law, Kentucky’s HBPA President Rick Hiles, prefer to raise imaginary problems rather than address substantive ones. A common object of their attacks are the “billionaires” supporting HISA who as Hines stated, are the “powerful and well-financed minority backing HISA [who] opted for class warfare.” Yet Hines cannot even keep straight what his complaint is. While complaining that the NHBPA and ARCI were not “invited to the table” discussing reforms, he boasts that the efforts of those groups have forced HISA “to make substantial improvements.”
Are there issues with HISA? Of course there are. They are attempting to implement a federal law intended to overhaul the conduct of a sport that many of its participants believe is in drastic need to not just improve but survive. The drivel that emanated from this joint conference of self-appointed representatives not only did nothing to move that ball forward, but their distorted view of “success” would jeopardize racing’s future.