By Katie Petrunyak
LEXINGTON, KY – The Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) hosted the first day of their 88th annual conference on Safe Horses and Honest Sport on Monday, April 11 at the Griffin Gate Marriott in Lexington. The three-day event is held in conjunction with the meetings of The National Racing Compact and The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.
ARCI President Ed Martin opened the first session, emphasizing that racing currently sits at a crossroads in the sport's history with the impending implantation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act.
“We are going through a massive change in the regulation of the sport in general,” he said. “We have a responsibility ultimately to the general public, secondly to the industry and sport that everyone in this room loves and in many cases comes from, and we have a moral responsibility to these wonderful animals that are the cornerstone of our sport.”
Martin introduced speaker Liza Lazarus, the CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), who spoke on the current state of HISA and implored regulators that to “give us a chance” as they begin to put their regulations into action.
“The industry is facing pressure from the public and from owners, trainers and riders [asking] where is this industry going and what we can do to make it the best version of itself,” she said. “I know that all of you who work for state racing and gaming commissions are on the front lines regulating and doing good work. We are not coming in to say that your work isn't good work, instead we want to take it further and really focus on uniformity.”
She noted that there is much for racing to do in order for it to catch up with other sports in terms of uniformity.
“Our mission it to make the sport safer for horses and jockeys and to provide consistency and clarity around rules and consequences for racing participants,” Lazarus said. “Above all else, we must adhere to our mission of enhancing equine safety and the integrity of the sport. We believe that national uniform standards will benefit all participants who want to play by the rules and we approach the creation and implementation of the rules with a spirit of collaboration with the industry.”
The start date for HISA's Racetrack Safety Program is July 1 of this year. Lazarus said this program will have a significant impact on equine safety by establishing national standards for racetrack accreditation, expanding veterinary oversight, enhancing claiming rules, setting surface maintenance and measurement standards, collecting nationwide data and conducting research on medications, treatments, injuries and fatalities.
At the end of 2021, it was announced that HISA Authority was unable to reach an agreement with The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) as an enforcement agency for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. Lazarus said to expect an announcement next month regarding an anti-doping control program, which will likely start in January of 2023. Until then, the states will continue with their own oversight.
Lazarus also discussed the economic impact that will come with the implementation of HISA.
“The cost allocation model approved by the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] accounts for the number of starts and the purse levels per start in each state to ensure that costs are distributed fairly and equitably across the board. We're going to work diligently to make sure that we use efficiencies and minimize costs. We are looking for supplemental funding to help the industry bear the cost of these rules and regulations.”
She continued, “The promise to you is that at HISA, we are going to do our very best. We really want this to work. We love this industry, we care about the horse and we recognize that many of you have spent your lifetime in this industry. We're going to do our best to get it right and our philosophy will always be to collaborate. Our one ask in return is that you would just give us a chance. We are going to do our very best to get it right, but we are going to make mistakes and we're going to have to look at things over again because this has never been done before. I ask that you give us a chance to get it right and that if you have a criticism, you tell us and give us a chance to fix it so we can work together. There's not going to be positive change unless it is done as an industry.”
Robert Lopez, Chair of the Washington State Horse Racing Commission and outgoing Chair of the ARCI, also spoke via teleconference about HISA in the opening session of the day, but pointed out that he had hoped a closer relationship could have developed already between the ARCI and HISA.
“We see many exciting possibilities to improve upon the good work that we collectively do,” he said. “But we also see how missteps and missed opportunities might make it more difficult for the industry and those in it to survive in the highly-competitive marketplace. During my tenure, we offered to help guide HISA through the maze of various state governments. We offered our best advise on how to make this all work, but [this advise] was often ignored. Perhaps it was the enormity of the challenge they face and the fact that almost all involved have never done this before. They are certainly within their rights to do so, but to ignore the wisdom of those who understand the challenges of the state government was inexcusable.
He concluded by saying that he hoped their partnership could improve in the future throughout the implementation of HISA rules.
“The HISA Racetrack Safety rules going into effect this summer are based upon the hard work that has been done by all of you [regulators] over the years as they have relied heavily on the ARCI model rules. We take that as a compliment. I trust that our new colleagues at HISA will come to the level of commitment and expertise we all share for the safety and honesty of the sport of horseracing and the welfare of both human and equine participants.”
During the day's second session, Dr. Susan Stover, a professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, Chair of the Racetrack Safely Committee and board member of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, gave a lecture on 'Protecting Our Horses.' She discussed current data on injuries and fatalities in horse racing, noting that almost all come from pre-existing conditions. She emphasized that if such conditions can be caught early, horses are able to return to the racetrack in many cases without issue.
The day's third session featured a panel of the Equine Welfare Committee.
Scott Chaney, the Executive Director of the California Horse Racing Board, spoke on the many changes that have taken place in California since 2019. He said that the year brought forth a watershed moment for the state not necessarily because of an increased number of fatalities, but because of increased media attention. Chaney said that in implementing new regulations, which have now proven to be successful, they focused on four different categories: medication control, identifying high-risk horses, education and research, and perception and transparency.
Scott Palmer, the Equine Medical Director of the New York Gaming Commission, represented the Mid-Atlantic Program.
In regards to medication, Palmer said that there was a significant decrease in the total number of positive tests in the Mid-Atlantic region in 2016 and 2017 following the implementation of their Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan. Since then, the total number of positive tests were constant from 2017 to 2021 except for a decrease in 2020.
Ann McGovern concluded the panel as the representative for HISA's Safety Program, which goes into effect July 1. She said that the positive results outlined by Chaney and Palmer are an example of what can be achieved under effective regulations and noted that HISA looked at various pre-existing successes in the industry as they were outlining their program.
“We want to assist racetracks as they adopt the medication and safety standards that are outlined by HISA,” she said. “We want to provide educational opportunities for all the industry members and through research, we want to identify injury-reducing best practices. Our regulations rely heavily on the industry sending us data and we are requiring members of the industry to provide data.”
McGovern explained that with the collected data, HISA will conduct research to give input to the industry and make improvements. She added that the data will not be used to monitor trainers and veterinarians, but to give everyone more information.
John Roach joined McGovern on the panel to explain the different components of HISA, specifically the differences between Rule Series 2100 and 2200.
Roach said the 2100 series revolves around the accreditation process for racetracks, noting that every racetrack under HISA authority will be granted an interim accreditation as many racetracks will have work to do in order to meet HISA standards. Rule violations will not take place during that time as long as racetracks are working in good faith as they move forward to meeting the outlined standards.
“We realize that there are going to be tracks that this is going to be a bit of a heavy lift for,” McGovern said. “Most racing jurisdictions [present today] are meeting the majority of the standards already and I don't think it will be that difficult to get to standard of HISA if you are not already there, but for the smaller tracks that might find it more difficult, we're not going to ask them to have all this in place on July 1. What we're looking for is a good-faith effort to do what is necessary to save horses and reduce injuries in jockeys.”
In contrast, Rule Series 2200 includes rules that will be enforced starting on July 1. Examples of these regulations include the limited use of the riding crop, as well as enforcement of safety vests and safety helmets. These rules will be enforced with sanctions set forth in the regulations immediately upon implementation.
“We know that things change and as research tells us and as you tell us, these rules will evolve,” McGovern said. “If there's something we didn't get right, we are open to suggestions. We are working as hard as we can to get everything up and running, but the next steps are to education everyone in the industry as to what HISA means, what the regulations are, and what will be needed in order to comply. I think we're all in this for the same reason. We want to save horses lives, reduce jockey injuries and deter and remove the bad actors in our industry who make the good guys look bad.”
Monday's session concluded with a panel on the topic of if cheaters should be given a pass for cooperating, which featured United States Trotting Association President Russell Williams and Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission's Executive Director Tom Sage, as well as a panel on Federal-Jurisdiction Cooperation in Canada with Canadian Pari-Mutual Agency's Executive Director Lisa Foss, Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario's Director of Regulatory Compliance Brent Stone and Horse Racing Alberta's Supervisor of Racing Doug Fenske.
The ARCI conference continues on Tuesday.