By Pat Cummings
Dan Ross's article from Sunday, February 20 highlighting the many unanswered questions regarding provisions of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) should concern anyone who cares about American racing.
For an entity which many are expecting to be vitally important to the future of the sport, it has left much to be desired in the way of its public communications. Just shy of four months from launch, the lack of answers to a major industry publication should concern anyone involved in, or subject to, the new organization.
Transparency is not easy. When an organization or even an entire sport is not accustomed to communicating well with its stakeholders, the process of beginning to do so can be painful.
HISA's leadership might think its focus is needed entirely on establishing its rules and procedures and it will deal with the public later, or that it will do only the minimum required by law (following public comment procedures, etc.).
If U.S. racing had a legacy of open discourse with the public, this might not be a concern.
Transparency is desperately needed across our sport. And no matter how complicated or clumsy the process of establishing HISA might be, it misses the mark by failing to communicate clearly with the public and the press.
There are emerging signs, however, that some important cogs in the regulatory process are realizing the need, and the value, in improving communications.
Just last week, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz asserted the KHRC is undergoing a review of its approach to transparency. As of now, regulations limit the KHRC's ability to communicate about pending incidents before a stewards' ruling is issued. Many recent cases have made it clear this status quo is wholly insufficient.
Commissioner Bill Landes praised the commitment to a new approach as “a breath of fresh air.”
Transparent communication to customers, let alone internal stakeholders, is a necessity to compete in the modern American sporting marketplace.
Racing is in competition with other sports, not just for attention, but more than ever, wagering dollars. And make no mistake, those other sports are doing a far better job of communicating with customers about rules, officiating and infractions than almost any organization in American racing.
Many across the American racing landscape wish to see a more communicative, transparent approach to adjudicating the sport at every level.
HISA's leadership should take note sooner rather than later.
Patrick Cummings is the Executive Director of the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation