While horse racing in the U.S. has historically been regulated by the states, the recent passage by Congress of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (“HISA”) will nationalize regulations governing the sport and hopefully change the sport for the better. The legislation passed into law in December as a part of the $2.3 trillion government funding bill will place anti-doping/medication control and safety programs under one umbrella, the independent and non-governmental agency known as the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority (the “Authority”).
In anticipation of HISA’s passage, a previously formed nominating committee will now name the nine members who will comprise the Authority. Five members – comprising a majority- will be from outside the horse industry. The other four members will be associated more directly with the industry, but without current investments and other conflicts of interest. The Authority will contract with the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) to oversee the anti-doping/medication control program on a national basis.
Travis Tygart, the CEO of USADA, said following the legislation’s enactment into law: “… This passage signifies the beginning of a new era in the storied history of the horse racing industry. This landmark legislation will establish a uniform approach to better protect horses and jockeys, and to bolster the strength and fairness of the sport.” In the U.S. – where horse racing deaths often associated with dangerous doping practices have plagued the industry for years – 493 Thoroughbred race horses died in 2018 of racing related causes, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. In addition, between the period of December 2018 to late January 2020, more than 40 deaths occurred at Santa Anita Park in California, a racing facility considered one of the finest in the country.
The USADA will begin working soon with the Authority to design a full-bodied set of rules and regulations to ensure clean competition for equine athletes. Tygart went on to say, “USADA welcomes the opportunity to partner with horse racing stakeholders to develop uniform rules and to implement robust independent testing and enforcement that will contribute to the longevity and legacy of the sport of horse racing.”
According to Marc Summers, vice president and general counsel of The Jockey Club – the breed registry for Thoroughbred horses in the U. S. and Canada with a mission statement focused on the improvement of breeding and racing – the cost of implementing HISA will ultimately be borne by racing participants. Following determination of the Authority’s initial national budget for 2021, budgets will be allocated to individual states based upon the total anticipated numbers of racing starts in that state for the succeeding year, and it will be up to each state to determine how the budget amount will be raised and whether a per-start fee or some other form of calculation will be used.
While by law, the latest that the Authority must become operational is July 1, 2022, horse track owners and general managers and others responsible for horse racing in the U.S. should begin now to assess how they will need to change their practices as well as further evaluate risks associated with all aspects of their operations. They should also make a determination as to how their respective compliance and ethics programs will need to be improved to ensure horse racing will be in conformance with the new rules, regulations and enforcement to be promulgated by the Authority.