Q and A With David Ingordo on the HISA Horsemen's Advisory Group

David Ingordo | Keeneland photo

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Monday, HISA announced four new members to its Horsemen's Advisory Group, replacing six outgoing members. The advisory group was formed in 2022 to provide feedback to HISA from the boots on the ground in the racing industry. It is comprised of 18 members, representing a variety of viewpoints across the industry. We sat down with outgoing member David Ingordo to talk about how the group operates and what the experience was like.

SF: Can you explain how members are chosen for this group? Is there a committee who picks them? Do they volunteer?

DI: There is a period during which you can send in a resume to fill a position on the advisory board on a volunteer basis, and there were a lot of resumes submitted. The resumes represent people from all over the spectrum–from a casual fan to multiple trainers of the level of Todd Pletcher. Once the resumes have been received, senior HISA management reviews those submissions and makes the selections on who ultimately serves on the Advisory Board. You won't be asked to be on the committee; you need to apply. If you are reading this and this is something that you are interested in, I encourage you to apply.

SF: Once people submit their resumes, I assume there's a selection process on the part of HISA? And I see that six people are leaving, and four are coming on. I'm assuming that it was determined that 18 was the right number.

DI: Correct, HISA senior management chooses from the pool of applicants. Quite honestly, it was a big board. There are people on it who are listeners and there are people who are doers. I think it just got to be a little bit cumbersome with the numbers. My understanding was that the idea was to tighten it up so as to not have too many cooks in the kitchen.

SF: Tell me what your experience was like being on the board. What would be a typical situation that arose and how did it operate? Do you have a vote on policy with HISA or HIWU?

DI: First, we don't have a vote with either the safety committee or the ADMC. We are a collection of participants in the industry and advocates for horses and racing. We had regularly scheduled calls, usually monthly, and Lisa (Lazarus) would set an agenda. HISA and HIWU would participate, and we would give feedback. That was one scenario. The other scenario is that we address issues when there are, I'll call them industry emergencies. Louisiana being one of them recently. Lisa is a very open-minded person always seeking to understand industry issues, and she would ask questions about these issues to make informed policy recommendations.

SF: Can you give me an example of one issue that was resolved or changed because of input from the committee?

DI: There were several. One big change was delaying any provisional suspension of a trainer until a B sample came back in the case of a banned substance. In the beginning, you got a bad test for a banned substance, and you were right away provisionally suspended. Now that's been stopped until the B sample comes back. I thought that was a good change. Recently, we have been pushing for changes to substances like Metformin. It is important to understand that HISA and HIWU are two separate entities. Lisa will take our suggestions and go to work with HIWU. For example, there are now new rules on the treatment for human drugs of abuse like meth and cocaine. The Horsemen's Advisory Group recommendations have helped to reduce the sanctions that a trainer could receive. These are just a few changes that came from the HAG. There are more than that, but it gives you an idea that this is not a group just for show.

SF: If one of the members saw something that you thought was wrong, would they call for a meeting or ask for an emergency meeting?

DI: Definitely. If we saw something that we didn't like, we were able to bring it up. The very active members of the committee are advocating daily for change. I think it's important to know that people really work on this advisory group. A number of us are spending two to three to four hours a day working on issues that come up, and they come up daily. Anyone on the advisory board could bring something to Lisa and I found her to be very responsive. That was my experience and I believe others there felt that way as well.

Trust me, there are plenty of us that volunteered our opinions outside of the meetings. There are several of us that are vocal. Quite frankly, I'm surprised they allowed me to be on as long as I was! But kidding aside, this is not a group made up of yes men and women. It's made up of horse people who have strong opinions and personalities, who are educated and experienced that are willing to speak up.

SF: You said people need to understand the differences between HISA and HIWU. Explain the difference to me in simple terms.

DI: HISA is a private, non-governmental agency formed in response to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. They run the racing safety program and the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program. HIWU is a division of Drug Free Sport International, a private company. It is not a part of HISA, but an independent agency that has been contracted to enforce HISA's ADMC rules. I think people also have to understand that Lisa Lazarus did not make these rules. She came in and inherited them as they were written up before she came into HISA. As a group, we had a lot of contentious conversations. Some of these rules were maybe good in theory and not as good in practice, and Lisa's very quick to help us fix those through the right channels. She can't snap her fingers magically and make something change. But I think what I've been most proud of is the speed at which some of these issues are able to be changed, which in my lifetime never happened before, and that is a direct result of Lisa and her team at HISA.

SF: Was this advisory committee in place from day one?

DI: Lisa developed the advisory committee, and it was forward-looking on her part. I am presuming if they were creating HISA today, had they had asked some of these questions to a Horsemen's Advisory Group that we're dealing with now, we might have been able to avoid some of what we are working through today.

SF: What else has come out of being on the advisory committee?

DI: A lot of us on this advisory committee have become de facto ombudsman to trainers and owners when they encounter a problem. We all signed an NDA. So if someone calls me for help or advice, I can speak to them pretty frankly and clearly, and I have my conversation with that person on a confidential level. The job is to help people and solve problems. I think that's important to really focus on. Anybody in the industry who has questions, problems or concerns, call someone you feel comfortable talking to in this group.

SF: What are some of the things you've learned about the process of adjudicating a positive test?

DI: On the legal side of this, what I've learned is that the old way of approaching a problem with all the fire and brimstone that attorneys have historically chosen to do is really not the right way to advocate for yourself or your clients any more. I've dealt directly with the attorneys for HISA and HIWU over medication violations for friends and clients. I can tell you they're not out to get you. It's just not that way.

I'm not a lawyer, but I have learned through experience that attorneys should take another look at the theatrics that might have worked in the past and realize there is a lot more understanding there if you sit down and talk to HISA and HIWU. This isn't Darth Vader and the Galactic Empire. These are good, logical people that are looking to help you within the rules, but you've got to help yourself, too.

SF: Do you think more people in the industry are starting to feel that way?

DI: I spoke to somebody here at Keeneland Tuesday morning who said they were beginning to warm up to it. Let's face it: we haven't had any real, meaningful change in this area of racing in our lifetime. I'm 48. I went to work when I was 14. We've never had a governing body like this. We have a real industry, we have a real sport. This is the best opportunity we have had to do something uniformly nationwide as a sport.

SF: Would you recommend to people they serve on this committee?

DI: My informed opinion is that HISA is here to stay and it is one of the most important organizations in racing today. We need to make HISA work and serving on this committee gives those of us who love the sport a chance to help HISA be the best overseer it can be. You're going to get out of it what you put into it and what you put into it can help shape our sport for the future.

For me, I treated this like this is my civic duty to the industry. The game has been great to me. From my shoes to my haircut, it's paid for everything my entire life. From my family, my parents, to now with myself and (wife) Cherie (DeVaux), and I love this sport. We are passionate about racing. This isn't a resume builder; this is to try to support the industry and change the policies that we don't feel are correct and do something substantial for the sport of horseracing.

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