Jockey Club's Gagliano: HISA Is Necessary

James Gagliano | The Jockey Club

“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” –Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Letters to the editor are, by definition, opinions. You can disagree with an opinion, but you can't exactly say it's wrong. But when “facts” that are not facts are offered in support of an opinion, that is disinformation. The writer of the July 26, 2023, Thoroughbred Daily News letter to the editor slamming HISA could be the poster child for that. Over the past week I reviewed his criticisms with executives with HISA and HIWU and found his letter replete with disinformation.

Here are some of the most serious mistruths from the article:

Lack of Communication on Testing Results & Provisional Suspensions

According to the author, “There was zero notification from HISA/HIWU explaining what needed to be done.” Truth: According to Ben Mosier, executive director of HIWU, “Every trainer and owner who receives a positive test result receives a written notice from the Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit (HIWU), the independent enforcement agency tasked to enforce HISA's Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program, that states which prohibited substance was detected and contains detailed instructions about next steps, including HIWU contact information if the owner or trainer has questions.” I will note HISA maintains a 24/7 hotline for questions, something never before provided by state testing authorities.

Professionalism of Testing Barn Staff

According to the author, “… the people performing the test were not wearing gloves and were not wearing sterile gowns, nor are the receiving barns/test barns cleaned and thoroughly sterilized before and after every animal is processed.” Fact, again from Mosier: “All test barn personnel operating in states under HISA's jurisdiction have been trained by HIWU procedures that include sanitizing hands prior to handling sample collection equipment and wearing gloves throughout the process of collecting urine samples.”

Lab Credibility

The author attacks the credibility of the laboratories working with HIWU questioning whether they know how a substance got into a horse. Fact: Labs detect prohibited (banned or controlled) substances that are present in equine blood, urine, or hair samples and no labs have ever been tasked with conducting investigations into how, when, or why the horse was exposed to that prohibited substance.

Prohibited Substances

The author accuses HISA of inappropriately categorizing prohibited substances that are permitted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI), World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), and United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Fact: In the case of one of the author's horses, the substance reported as metformin is a prohibited substance by HISA and ARCI. WADA's and USADA's prohibited substances are not relevant because their prohibited lists cover proven performance-enhancing effects in humans, not horses.

Beyond that, the letter writer seems to have totally forgotten the big picture, so here's a reminder: HISA was necessary for the safety of our horses and riders. The survival of Thoroughbred racing in America depends on it, and as we all know, there is plenty of evidence to support that fact.

People in our sport, including at the highest level, were cheating right under the noses of state regulators for years and not getting caught–the names Servis and Navarro should ring some bells. And if you think that's a thing of the past, think again. As of July 30, 2023, HISA drug rules, enforced by HIWU, have resulted in 30 positive findings for, or possession of, banned substances. These aren't minor therapeutic overages; we're talking about drugs that have no business anywhere near a racehorse in competition or training. So, those horsemen who have been sticking their chests out and saying, “There's no doping going on in Thoroughbred racing,” are just plain wrong.

The HISA rollout hasn't been perfect, but HISA was given a huge job to do in a short period of time. And throughout that time, HISA has been bombarded by an orchestrated barrage of lawsuits generated by the same small group of dissidents and based on the same type of alternative facts espoused in the TDN letter. Now that HISA has won the latest round of lawsuits in federal court, the same group of naysayers has launched a massive disinformation campaign–they should be ashamed of themselves.

Despite the incoming fire of misinformation, half-truths, and lies, HISA has made enormous progress. Here are just a few examples:

  • HISA is virtually a start-up company and has launched both its Racetrack Safety Program and its Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program in the span of a year, establishing a much-needed national set of integrity and safety rules.
  • HISA developed uniform protocols based on data and science that were previously absent from this sport. Data generated by HISA's reporting mechanisms is being deployed in real time to help identify horses that could be at increased risk for injury, thereby making racing safer for horse and rider alike.
  • Veterinary oversight and the number of learned hands touching horses before they set foot on the track has expanded to help ensure horses' wellbeing. More than 30,000 pre-race inspections have been performed by regulatory vets, and to date, more than 1,000 veterinarians have submitted more than 1 million treatment records of the care they provide to horses.
  • HISA has put unprecedented emphasis on jockey wellness and safety, providing the industry with a national medical director and jockey safety and welfare manager to enhance and expand safety programs for our riders.
  • To improve its own rollout and rule compliance, HISA established a national Horsemen's Advisory Group that is consulted on a regular basis for feedback on its rules and their implementation.
  • HIWU was established in partnership with Drug Free Sport International and has formed a best-in-class team of testing, laboratory, investigatory, and legal experts to enforce HISA's anti-doping and medication control efforts. Since launching on May 22, HIWU has tested more than 15,000 horses, including post-race tests, out-of-competition tests, vets' list tests, and tests on claimed horses.

There is more work to be done, but HISA and its staff are working long hours to create and implement a lasting anti-doping program that is already transforming equine health and safety. I do agree with the letter's author that racing needs to improve, to demonstrate to the public that we as an industry put the care of our horses above all else. HISA is the independent organization that is leading the sport in these efforts, and it's time for everyone to be more productive and engaged to accomplish our shared goals.

James L. Gagliano,
President and Chief Operating Officer
The Jockey Club

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