By Bill Finley
If you are an owner and trainer who plays by the rules, the last several years should have been hard to swallow. Racing, with its broken system, has proven unable to police itself and the result has been that cheaters have prospered and have done so at the expense of the vast majority of horsemen who do things right. Armed with syringes, the bad guys have been stealing money from the good guys. Lots of it.
Which is exactly why every honest horseman should be 100% behind the Horseracing Integrity Safety and Integrity Act (HISA). It will give them a fighting chance.
HISA is not a magic bullet and it will not solve all of the sport's problems. Cheating will never go away totally. What HISA will do is to usher in a competent, effective system to police the sport. Instead of relying on each individual state and a system of drug testing that never really catches anybody, the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) will take over, responsible for leveling what has been, for far too long, an uneven playing field. There is no doubt that USADA is going to make it a lot harder to get away with cheating.
Many prominent horsemen have come out in favor of HISA, but their voice was drowned out by the news that broke Monday that the National HBPA, along with 11 individual state horsemen's groups, was suing to put the brakes on HISA. This would be like Citibank suing for more lenient penalties for bank robbers. It makes absolutely no sense.
The lawsuit was filed by the Liberty Justice Center, which calls itself a non-profit public-interest litigation center that was founded to fight against political privilege. In a statement the group released Monday, USADA was never mentioned. Instead, the group contended that HISA is unconstitutional and, therefore, should be struck down.
It's hard to imagine that there is one horsemen anywhere who cares one bit whether or not HISA is unconstitutional or not. Instead, one is left to connect the dots and after doing so, it wouldn't be hard to reach the conclusion that the only reason to have HISA overturned would be that they prefer the status quo over a new system under the control of USADA. That is to say that they are fine with a system that rewards cheats at the expense of the very people who make up the majority of their membership. Trainers and owners represented by the groups that are part of the suit should be outraged.
It's not at all clear that the actions taken by the National HBPA and its affiliate groups even have the backing of the majority of horsemen nationwide. Many prominent trainers and owners have been outspoken in their belief that something must change and that HISA is the best route out of this morass. And several key state horsemen's groups were nowhere to be found among the press releases and statements issued Monday. Some of them have, in fact, come out in favor of HISA.
That doesn't mean that there aren't trainers who side with the HBPAs. The National HBPA issued a press release that included comments of support from a handful of owners or trainers, among them Ron Moquett, who said, “My job is to take care of horses and the people who help me take care of horses. I don't see how this does any of that. I definitely agree there are some things we should do to better the industry. But this legislation takes you down a bunch of back, curvy roads where you don't know where you're going. Change for the sake of change does not solve problems and is likely to create new ones.”
Moquett is exactly the type of trainer who should enthusiastically support HISA. There's every reason to believe that he is as honest as they come. The trainer of the venerable Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect), he has never been involved in any sort of scandal and his lifetime winning rate of 12% suggests that his horses are running on nothing more than hay, oats and water. It's the Ron Moquetts of the world who are getting pounded by those who have a chemical edge. If he does not believe that he has never been beaten by a cheater, I suggest that he is hopelessly naive. It's probably happened dozens, if not hundreds, of times.
The backers of HISA, including The Jockey Club, seem confident that the horsemen's lawsuit will eventually end in defeat. That doesn't mean there won't be damage done. HISA is supposed to go in effect by July 1, 2022. Because of the lawsuit, that date could be in jeopardy. If the HBPAs and the Liberty Justice Center want to go to the mat on this one, they very well could tie things up for years in the courts. That would do demonstrable harm to a sport that is trying to clean up its act and send a message to its many critics that it takes the issues of doping and horse safety very seriously.
A horsemen's group should be looking out for all of its members, which means it should be leading the fight for integrity. That they are standing in its way is very sad.