HISA – The Dawn of a New Day

by Ed Meyer

posted on July 19, 2022 in General Discussion, Horse Racing | Comments Off on HISA – The Dawn of a New Day

Established when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was signed into federal law in 2020, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) is responsible for drafting and enforcing uniform safety and integrity rules in thoroughbred racing in the U.S. Overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), HISA was created to implement, for the first time, a national, uniform set of rules applicable to every thoroughbred racing participant and racetrack facility. HISA is comprised of two programs: the Racetrack Safety Program, which goes into effect July 1, 2022, and the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program, which will go into effect in January 2023, according to the rules on the HISA website.

Horsemen from around the country have been talking about this for over a year now. It has bounced back and forth with mixed feelings. Overall, the thought of having a “big brother” to oversee the sport seemed a million years away. Before you knew it, the new rules were upon. Now the sport has more questions than answers and just this past week some problems began.

The Racetrack Safety Program includes operational safety rules and national racetrack accreditation standards that seek to enhance equine welfare and minimize equine and jockey injury. The Program will expand veterinary oversight, impose surface maintenance and testing requirements, enhance jockey safety, regulate riding crop use, and implement voided claim rules, among other important measures.

The ADMC Program will create a centralized testing and results management process and apply uniform penalties for integrity violations efficiently and consistently across the United States. These rules and enforcement mechanisms will be administered by a new independent agency, the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU), established by the Drug Free Sport International (DFS). HIWU will oversee testing, educate stakeholders on the new system, accredit laboratories, investigate potential integrity violations and prosecute rule breaches.

The HISA rules and plans are like trying to study for the SAT exam in one night. It came out of the gate quickly and before you know it, we may be the only sport to regulate itself out of existence if we’re not careful. – Just this past week there was a “learning curve” issue for a horse being taken down as the rider used too many strikes with his riding crop.

During a race, riders will be limited to no more than six strikes of the whip on the horse’s hindquarters, with no more than two permitted in succession. After each pair of strikes, a rider must wait at least two strides to give the horse an opportunity to respond. – Jockeys may also tap the horse’s shoulder with the crop, or show it to the horse, as a means of ensuring the horse’s best effort and for safety purposes. Riders may not raise their wrists above their helmets prior to striking a horse, nor may they hit the horse anywhere other than the shoulder or hindquarters. It’s in the penalties where the new rules will differ from the old. The new regime is more severe and contains added punishments for cumulative violations. This came into effect on July 1, 2022.

Here’s the rub. – While the stewards are trying to uphold the rules and changes; mistakes can and will be made. While the rider did have too many strikes down the lane the stewards hung the inquiry sign. After conferring about the infraction, they took the horse down from the order of finish hurting the wagering public. This was not a malicious position and the judges in all good faith were trying to hold accountable the infraction. They were correct about the overuse of the riding crop but took down the horse from the payouts effecting the betting public.

In my humble opinion, the sport needs regulations to hold the game accountable and provide transparency. My only gripe is that it came upon very quickly where mistakes can be made. I feel if it came in phases throughout the year, it would have allowed for the horsemen and tracks to educate and prepare. – Rules restricting the use of the riding crop are a relatively new development in Thoroughbred racing, but up until now, violations have been between the rider, his or her wallet, and the stewards.

For the longest time stewards were vigilant to ensure jockeys were riding their mounts to fullest of their ability. Once upon a time a rider who was getting busy down the lane with their stick was a sign of a jockey riding their horse out completely. – Now things have changed, as trainers and horsemen will need to be more informed to eliminate these problems going forward. – All involved in racing have been working with a set of rules since the beginning of racing. Now, the changes are here, and the questions begin. Time can heal the wounds and communication is key.

I still feel there is merit. But give it more time, training, and even one-on-one meetings that will slowly eliminate problems. Horsemen at every track will work with new rules, but they just need more time. There just can’t be a date and a deadline. Just an overall plan and education to work towards the goal of a date that phases in new rules. As a gambler who likes to see the game governed by a fair set of rules. Just don’t hurry through this. It’s just too important to leave anything unattended.