HISA Town Hall on New Racetrack Safety Rules

Saratoga | Sarah Andrew

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In a virtual town hall Monday, representatives from the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) Authority outlined, and took stakeholder questions on, the revised “Racetrack Safety” rules that have just gone into effect.

The main rule revisions and modifications apply to intra-articular injections and to vets' listings. An online “handbook” of the new rules can be accessed here. The following are some of the primary points raised during Monday's hour-long session, and in the materials available online.

Joint Injections

The updated rules on intra-articular injections are significantly stricter than what has been in place. A key point here: The day the horse receives an intra-articular injection counts as day one of the standdown period.

As of Monday, trainers are not permitted to work a horse for 14 days following an intra-articular corticosteroid injection into the front or back fetlock (increased from seven days), and are not permitted to start a horse for 30 days following an intra-articular corticosteroid injection into any fetlock (increased from 14 days).

When it comes to corticosteroid injections into other joints, as well as the administration of other joint medications like hyaluronic acid, trainers remain prohibited from working a horse seven days following an intra-articular injection, and from starting a horse for 14 days following an intra-articular injection.

The only exception to these rules concerns polyacrylamide hydrogels. Horses are not permitted to race for 180 days after an intra-articular injection with a polyacrylamide hydrogel.

When asked why extra emphasis was placed on intra-articular injections into the fetlock, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said that “there was a lot of discussion and research review” around this decision.

“We know that statistically, half of every single musculoskeletal fatality in horse racing comes from the fetlock,” said Lazarus. “It is the joint that is the most vulnerable, the one we see most injured and which causes the most fatalities.”

New void claim rules and claiming waiver rule

Under the new rules, if a claimed horse has a post-race positive finding–coined under HISA an “adverse analytical finding”–the new connections of the horse have the option of voiding the claim, provided they provide written notice to the track stewards (where the claim took place) within 48 hours of being alerted of the positive.

There are caveats. A claim will not be voided if the horse has in the meantime started in a race, has died or been euthanized, or if the new connections have made “material alterations” to the horse, like gelding him.

Mark Guilfoyle, HISA's director of state racing commission relations, stressed that “time is of the essence” once connections are alerted to the positive test result.

“What they'll do, they'll notify both sides of the parties. They'll also notify the stewards that this claim is eligible to be voided,” said Guilfoyle.

“What you'll have then is, you'll have 48 hours–that's business days,” he added. “What I would advise you do is contact the stewards, go straight in if you'll be at the track. If you can't get hold of them, or you want to contact both of us, my name will be on that letter. It's a cover letter that you'll get.”

Later on in the Town Hall, one stakeholder asked how these new rules fit into mandates at some tracks where connections of claimed horses are required to run the horse back during the meet, or else risk the horse being placed in entry “jail” post-meet for a period of time.

Ann McGovern, HISA's director of racetrack safety, said that HISA was “not a racing office,” and therefore had no jurisdiction over such racetrack mandates.

Lazarus urged stakeholders to contact HISA with their concerns over these seemingly incompatible rules.

“If there's something specific, just reach out to me or Ann separately,” said Lazarus. “Obviously, we don't want to have any rules that are in direct conflict.”

According to Lazarus, HISA is meeting test turn-around times–of 10 business days for a post-race sample from receipt of the test, and five business days for a vets' list sample–about 95% of the time.

“And we actually ask them to prioritize claimed horses just given the fact that a positive test on a claimed horse could ultimately result in a horse being given back to the original owner,” said Lazarus.

Another rule that went into effect Monday was a modification of the waiver claiming rule that now permits connections to declare their horse ineligible to be claimed for a second consecutive race provided they adhere to certain caveats.

The waiver must have been “asserted” its first race back for the horse to be eligible for the second waiver, for example. If the horses changes major ownership since its first race, that too precludes it from being eligible for the second waiver.

“Basically, we want to encourage owners and trainers to give their horses time and give horses the medical attention they may need to make them a better racehorse and to address any injuries they may have without making those injuries any more severe,” said Silverman.

Vets' list and prohibited practices

There are updated rules on what might prompt the addition of a horse to the vets' list, and what happens to that horse when on this list.

They cover a variety of events, including general unsoundness, illness and injury; bleeding events, including epistaxis; horses who haven't started in over a year, and those that haven't made a start before four; as well as clenbuterol administration.

Horses that are unsound, injured, or suffer an epistaxis event, for example, will be prohibited from working for seven days. A key question here is: What's the difference between unsoundness and lameness?

“When we use the term lame, we're usually referring to a musculoskeletal concern. And the American Association of Equine Practitioners has gone even further and defined lame on a scale of zero to five, with zero being a horse that has no signs of lameness, and five being a horse that is completely non-weightbearing on at least one limb,” said Shari Silverman, a veterinary liaison for HISA.

“Unsound is a broader term,” said Silverman. “Certainly, a horse that is lame is considered unsound. But it could include other musculoskeletal or physiological conditions that make a horse unfit to compete or breeze. An example would be atrial fibrillation, an arrhythmia of the heart.”

As of Monday, the following practices are prohibited: No pin-firing of any part of the horse (and not just the shin, as was the case previously); no freeze-firing of the shins; and no surgical or chemical neurectomy.

Furthermore, beginning with the 2023 foal crop, if they have had pin-firing anywhere on the body, if their shins have been freeze-fired, or they've had a surgical or chemical neurectomy, they will not be allowed to race under HISA.

“There is no waiver, nothing you can upload into the portal saying that this was done. So 2023, 2024 moving on forward, those horses cannot have had those procedures,” said Silverman.

Therapeutic devices and shockwave treatments

Therapeutic devices requiring an external power source are prohibited within 48 hours of the start of a published post-time. They include the following: Pulsed electromagnetic field (PEMF) devices, lasers, nebulizers, electromagnetic blankets and whirlpool boots.

All acupuncture treatments are similarly prohibited within 48 hours of the start of a published post-time.

Shockwave treatments are prohibited within 14 days of a timed  workout, and within 30 days of a race. The day of the administration is considered day-one of the stand down period.

Air quality index protocol

The Air Quality Index (AQI) measures the amount of particulate matter in the atmosphere. The higher the AQI, the worse the air quality.

High AQI measurements–especially those above 150–are linked with potentially serious health impacts for both humans and horses. Climate change-fueled increases in extreme weather events will make the AQI an ever-more pertinent component of the horse racing infrastructure, as evinced by the cancellation last year of racing in New York due to the Canadian wildfires.

Training and racing activities are permitted and prohibited at varying AQI levels. When the AQI is above 150, for example, stakeholders have the option of withdrawing themselves or their horses from competition without penalty. When the AQI is above 175, all racing and timed workouts are prohibited.

One of the questions posed by stakeholders concerned what happens to horses that suffer heat-stroke.

“That would be up to the regulatory veterinarian to determine,” said Silverman. “It would depend on the severity of the heatstroke. They may decide to place the horse on the vets' list as injured or physically in distress.”

Silverman added: “It would also be up to them, depending on the severity and how concerned they are about the horse's ability to return to racing, whether they think this requires just a physical examination or if it requires seeing a horse successfully complete a work and blood draw.”

Welfare, deprivation of care

Racetracks are now required to develop and implement protocols related to equine welfare and husbandry concerns.

The mandate broadly covers the following behavior: Cruelty, mistreatment, neglect or abuse; abandonment, injury, maiming or killing; administration of any noxious substance; and deprivation of necessary care, sustenance, shelter and veterinary care.

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