Plenty of questions linger as racing commissions grapple with HISA

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Jan. 20, 2022

Racing regulatory agencies in the Mid-Atlantic region continue to seek clarity and guidance on the rollout of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act in the wake of the recent announcement by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that it could not reach an agreement with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority for implementation of its medication control program.

HISA was part of discussions during recent meetings of the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission and the West Virginia Racing Commission. The Association of Racing Commissioners International, of which those two agencies are members, has been regularly updating its membership on any developments related to HISA.

HISA, which became law in late December 2020, takes effect July 1, 2022. Rules and regulations under its racetrack safety program are expected to take effect at that time, but the medication control program will now wait until January 2023 rather than a phased approach that would begin in July of this year.

Meanwhile, ARCI was told a mechanism for the funding of HISA by the racing industry has been submitted to the Federal Trade Commission for review and could be available to the public in February via the HISA website.

Delaware is one of two jurisdictions in the United States—the other is Maryland—in which the racing associations pay for equine drug testing. In others, funding comes from the state or a combination of sources.

“They did not understand that when they got into this,” DTRC Chairman Duncan Patterson said of HISA officials during a Jan. 18 meeting. “Every jurisdiction is different. They did not involve any local jurisdictions in the discussions and making the rules.”

Patterson said he has heard that will change going forward, as will the parts of the medication control program. USADA had proposed starting from scratch on medication regulations, but Patterson said he heard there is a willingness to employ many of the existing regulations developed by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and authorized by ARCI as model rules.

HISA has said it is talking with other entities to handle the medication control program. It is expected some laboratories currently used by racing regulatory agencies will continue doing so but under the same protocols and testing parameters mandated by HISA.

“They did not need to change medication protocols and rules, but USADA wanted to have its own stamp on things,” he said. “A sliver lining, perhaps, is they anticipate existing medication rules and protocols will be used. Hopefully that will continue to be true.”

Bessie Gruwell, Executive Director of the Delaware Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, is a member of a Mid-Atlantic committee that has reviewed proposed HISA rules and regulations for the medication control program and racetrack safety program.

“We sent in rule changes, we had conference calls, and at least we had some input—but probably not as much as we would like,” Gruwell said. “It has been challenging.”

The West Virginia Racing Commission at its most recent meeting in mid-December addressed similar issues, though the meeting was held just before USADA announced its withdrawal from HISA. The discussion focused on a funding, which is a major issue for the commission.

Kelli Talbott, Senior Deputy Attorney General for the WVRC, noted that the commission doesn’t have an equine medical director at each racetrack, and there could be other HISA racetrack safety rules not on the books in West Virginia.

“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the (proposed) rules and see there will be expenses above and beyond what we spend in West Virginia,” Talbott said. “There are a lot of devil in the details we don’t know yet.”

West Virginia, through the State Attorney General’s office, is one of several states that are part of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of HISA.

“There may be good intentions but you can’t compare West Virginia racing to California or New York except that there is a horse and jockey,” WVRC Chairman Ken Lowe said. “If we’re not very careful they are going to put us out of business.”