Letter to the Editor: HISA's CEO Lisa Lazarus Issues Response to Pimental Article

Lisa Lazarus | Carley Storm

For the last several days, I have been thinking about the best way to respond to Friday's article by T.D. Thornton about Mr. and Mrs. Pimental.

The story was disturbing to read, both because of the human story and the picture it paints of the organization I manage. First, it is impossible to not feel tremendous empathy for what the Pimentals are experiencing. Second, the article implied that HISA and HIWU are devoid of concern for regular horsemen, are looking to wipe out smaller training operations, and are ignorant to endemic drug use on the backstretch of many racetracks. None of those are true. Since the story was published, HIWU has permitted Mr. Pimental to withdraw his admission, and he is working with HISA's/HIWU's Ombudsman, Alan Foreman, to present his story. Alan Foreman was recently appointed by HISA and HIWU so that trainers would have a resource to help explain the rules to them and provide guidance at no cost. Alan is uniquely qualified for this role as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associations, Inc. and an attorney specializing in racing law. We will also soon be announcing a Pro Bono panel of lawyers for Covered Persons who fall below a certain income threshold so that no one is deprived of counsel simply because they cannot afford a lawyer.  We firmly believe that no horseman should be deprived of his or her due process rights because of a lack of resources.

One of the best things about HISA's Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program is that it is unequivocally non-discriminatory. The horse provides a sample, it is sent to a HIWU lab, and the lab returns a result–positive or negative. The samples are completely anonymous. No one at the lab knows which sample belongs to which horse or its associated trainer or owner. A sample is analyzed as positive or negative. And if it is positive, everyone is treated exactly the same way. There is no longer any space for “he's a good guy” so let's not report it or for reduced sanctions because of relationships or influence. There is true equal treatment across the board for all of the samples that HIWU has managed since the ADMC program launched. But the non-discriminatory aspect of the program is sometimes also the worst thing about it. Because every positive test is attached to a person. And every person has a story. And some of those stories can be heartbreaking.

Of the more than 37,000 horses tested by HIWU laboratories, ONLY 9 samples have tested positive for methamphetamine (and five of the nine were from the same trainer and three were from the same horse.) Therefore, methamphetamine positives under HIWU represent one quarter of 1% of samples that have been collected. Methamphetamine is banned by every horse racing jurisdiction and every equine sport, both nationally and abroad, and I think we can all agree that it must be regulated. The question we must continue to evaluate however is, are we regulating it appropriately? Prior to HISA, methamphetamine was prohibited under ARCI rules and controlled by RMTC-recommended testing which was lower (stricter) than HIWU's current limit of detection used for Methamphetamine.

I remarked above that the anonymity of the ADMC program is intentional to maintain objectivity, but once a positive test is made public, your case is out in the open, and telling your story becomes paramount. Last week, HIWU announced that Covered Persons with horses that test positive for human substances of abuse such as methamphetamine will not be subject to a Provisional Suspension or have the positive test publicized until the B Sample result is returned. This provides a period of time to investigate the source of the Prohibited Substance before a Provisional Suspension takes effect and the case is made public. During this time, it is imperative that any Covered Person charged with a violation work with HIWU to try and identify an explanation for the positive test. This is where Alan Foreman and the incoming panel of Pro Bono lawyers can help. Please take advantage of that resource so that you can effectively represent what has happened if you have a positive test.

In accepting the job to lead HISA, I have been tasked with taking Thoroughbred horseracing through a dramatic period of change. Part of that change requires learning and understanding new rules and new systems, and that isn't easy for people who have been doing things the same way their whole lives and have done so with success. For HISA and HIWU, that education represents our biggest challenge, since a large percentage of those we need to educate resist HISA and are seemingly uninterested in learning the rules. This is further complicated by the lack of support from some horsemen's groups in educating their stakeholders. All horsemen's groups, irrespective of their views on HISA, are needed to help us bring this much needed education and support to horsemen. The HIWU website contains more than 40 educational resources, including fact sheets and videos. I implore horsemen to please read these documents, get acquainted with the new system, and reach out to us with any questions. At a minimum, I hope all horsemen will download the HIWU app, as it contains so much helpful information in an easy-to-use simple format.

Last March when I visited Arkansas, I was struck by the simplicity of a sign in Ron Moquett's stable– “ATTENTION: Due to sensitive testing policies, if you urinate in the stalls you WILL be terminated immediately.” Efforts like this by horsemen to maintain a clean environment in their barns are laudable. We need racetracks to do the same, especially with receiving barns which are often unclean which is an unfair risk to horsemen.

The truth is that there are very few workplaces in the world where methamphetamine is accepted as a normal part of the working environment. As an industry, we can do better, and the time is now. We owe it to our horses to protect them from being exposed to Meth, and we owe it to employees who are struggling with addiction to get the support they need. And we owe it to industry to keep our backstretches Meth-free. This is what professionalization looks like, and it comes with growing pains.

In closing, our pledge to horsemen is that HISA and HIWU will continue to listen to and work with all industry stakeholders to make industry driven rules and processes the best they can be for the fairness of all participants, the welfare of the equine and human athletes, and the integrity of the sport.

–Lisa Lazarus, CEO HISA

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