Letter to the Editor: Eric Hamelback


We wish to follow up on a letter to the editor from long-time owner Gary Biszantz that appeared in the October 23rd edition of the Thoroughbred Daily News. Mr. Biszantz has been a well-respected breeder and owner of thoroughbreds for many years and is not only entitled to his opinions, he has paid more than enough dues in the sport to legitimately deliver them. However, what is of concern of us is the possibility that certain of the views within the article may be mistaken for facts by other readers.

Let's begin with the largest misstatement, that the “H.B.P.A. organization” opposes “stricter control of drugs.” The National Horsemen's Benevolent & Protective Association (HBPA) has never opposed, and never will oppose, the strictest of regulations against and penalties for unapproved drug use in horses. We are clear however, on there being a difference between industry approved therapeutic medications and illegal drugs. The letter seems to lead readers to believe the entire range of equine pharmacology fits into one definition, that being “drugs.” This is the grossest of oversimplifications and one we unfortunately continue to see in print. Opinions such as those, equating approved therapeutic medications with the term “drugs,” serves to damage the public perception of thoroughbred racing far more than does the usage of veterinarian-prescribed, legal, approved, and therapeutically important medications.

The article also implies that whatever it is that is wrong with our industry began with the introduction of Lasix, without any mention of the revenue-splitting or cost structures that continually threaten racing. Nor did the article mention anything of the serious competitive environment for the wagered dollar that we face now, nor any of the other many factors that have impacted our industry that are completely unrelated to medication. A more comprehensive view of racing might recognize that the introduction of Lasix use has paralleled the introduction of, among other improvements, highly advanced testing equipment that can detect any substance known to exist in parts per trillion. This advanced science led to the obvious result that racing is, with respect to the use of illegal “drugs,” in fact, a much cleaner industry now than it has ever been. Not to say that we should not continue to make strides to make our oversight and testing better, we must, but a little objectivity as to where we have been and where we are now would help with public perception of the sport.

As for race day therapeutic medications, perhaps when the letter uses the blanket statement of “drugs,” it is actually referring only to Lasix. We feel that continuing to wage an ill-informed war on the anti-bleeding medication Lasix and addressing it with the label of “drugs” is a deliberate mischaracterization that is another disservice to the industry. Furthermore, the article asks us to imagine how much money has been spent on “suggested or unnecessary race-day medications in the past 13 years.” That will require some imagining as none of us would have any true idea. The implication here is, in effect, accusing all veterinarians of over-prescribing race-day medications for profit, which is a violation of both the rules of racing and their oaths as practitioners.

Without question, the National HBPA certainly does favor enforcing laws and regulations designed to prohibit cheating and unethical behavior in thoroughbred racing. We are also in favor of a rational, science-based approach to all therapeutic medications including Lasix. We are confident now that the HBPA, working along with other industry organizations, will see both science and reason prevail and a comprehensive, national approach will evolve to address the welfare of equine athletes, their riders as well as the integrity of our sport.

Unfortunately, as defined now, H.R. 3084: Thoroughbred Horseracing Integrity Act of 2015 referenced in the article, will not provide the “level playing field” that a small group proclaims it will. It will create something called the Thoroughbred Horseracing Anti-doping Authority, which as written will be controlled by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency). USADA is a private entity that will be granted control of the Interstate Horseracing Act under HR 3084, yet USADA has no experience in any equine industry standards. Regardless of where one stands on any medication issue, it seems highly unlikely this is a logical answer for our industry. We think it unlikely that any successful businessman or woman would allow their enterprises to be run by an entity that had no defined oversight, or allow for a project funding plan to be anything but strictly defined. Would any successful business have permitted its companies to be run by a board of directors that knew nothing about the business, yet could override any and every decision? We would certainly assume the answer to all of those questions would be “no.”

We do however concur on a few specifics mentioned in the article. We agree, as the article states, that “the horse comes first and racing sound and clean should be #1.” Putting the health and welfare of the horse first is paramount for the HBPA and its members. Although it seems our goals are the same, the difference can be drawn in how we see them being attained. A good approach would be for people to start listening to each other and consider collaborating toward the goals that we all see as desirable. A bad approach is to accuse those with different views of being less ethical or less honest or even not concerned. Stacking additional government bureaucracy such as H.R. 3084 in its existing form on top of what already exists is an even worse idea.


Eric J. Hamelback

CEO, National HBPA


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