By Bill Finley
Organizations representing some Thoroughbred horse owners and trainers have filed a federal lawsuit to stop the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA), signed into law in the U.S. Congress's December omnibus spending bill.
The National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (National HBPA) and state affiliates in Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia are suing HISA's newly-created “Authority” to regulate the sport and the Federal Trade Commissioners. In addition, they are suing the Nominating Committee and asking the court to immediately stop them from appointing the Board members of the Authority.
They are represented by attorneys at the Liberty Justice Center, which is contending that HISA is unconstitutional because it gives powers to private individuals and a private organization in an area where only a government entity should be allowed such powers.
Notably absent from the list are horsemen's groups representing owners and trainers in the four leading racing states, New York, Kentucky, Florida and California. The New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association has come out in favor of HISA.
The news of the lawsuit brought an immediate and strong response from those who have been working behind the scenes for the passage of HISA, which some believe is a necessary step in order for the sport to clean itself up and prevent cheating and the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
“If they are successful and they stop this, you can kiss the horse industry goodbye,” said breeder and owner Arthur Hancock. “Look at what has happened in the past. That so many have come together to try to clean up the sport is a wonderful thing. Everyone wants a level playing field and this will give it to them. I don't know why anyone would object to that.”
“This is ridiculous,” said Hall of Fame trainer Mark Casse. “I read this and thought, 'you've got to be kidding me.' All we are trying to do is clean up our sport. Looking at the states where they are backing this, those are some of the states that most need cleaning up. I don't know how anybody could be against cleaning up our sport. I can tell you one thing, they never asked me for my opinion.”
While it remains to be seen whether or not the lawsuit succeeds in circumventing HISA, it could cause delays. The United States Anti-Doping Agency is set to begin policing the sport and testing its participants on July 1, 2022. That date could now be in jeopardy.
According to its website, The Liberty Justice Center is “a non-profit conservative public-interest litigation center that fights to protect economic liberty, private property rights, free speech, and other fundamental rights in Illinois and beyond.” According to Wikipedia, The Liberty Justice Center is an associate member of the State Policy Network, a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as “think tanks” and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.
“All Americans should be concerned when Congress gives power to regulate an entire industry to a private group of industry insiders,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center, in a statement. “This goes way beyond setting rules for the sport of horse racing. This is not the NBA or the NFL. The 'Authority' has the power to make laws, issue subpoenas and effectively tax owners with little real oversight. Placing that power in a private organization is illegal and must be stopped.”
The Jockey Club, the main proponent of HISA, also issued a statement Monday.
“We are not at all surprised by the lawsuit filed against HISA today by a number of affiliates of the National HPBA,” it read. “We are confident that the law is constitutionally sound and legal, as it is patterned precisely after other longstanding law. It's a shame that the National HPBA has chosen this expensive and time-consuming path, but it is consistent with their well known pattern of conduct that has served to block or water down needed reforms that the vast majority of the equine industry and animal welfare organizations support. It is worth noting that this suit is also brought by state HBPA affiliates that are the greatest beneficiaries of the earlier federal legislation, the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978, which confers upon them virtually unlimited authority over interstate wagering on Thoroughbred races.”
Jeff Gural, who owns the Meadowlands and has been one of the leading voices calling for harness and Thoroughbred racing to undergo sweeping changes when it comes to integrity issues, said he does not believe the lawsuit will ultimately stop HISA.
“I think it will prevail,” he said. “I don't think they have a chance because Judges will look at this and, instinctively, will want to keep the horses from being drugged. Them going in and saying drugging horses is OK is going to be tough to sell, especially after all those people were indicted. I'm not too concerned.”
The lawsuit was filed on Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.