'If We Get Something Wrong, We'll Fix It': HISA's Lisa Lazarus Meets With Iowa Stakeholders - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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‘If We Get Something Wrong, We’ll Fix It’: HISA’s Lisa Lazarus Meets With Iowa Stakeholders

Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), came to Prairie Meadows on Thursday to answer questions from Iowa's horse-racing stakeholders. Her appearance was at the behest of Iowa's seven-term U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley.

The gathering included representatives from the Iowa HBPA, Iowa Thoroughbred Breeders and Owners Association, Prairie Meadows, Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and others. Also in attendance was Marc Guilfoil, the former executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and now HISA's director for state racing commission relations.

“The Iowa HBPA is grateful that Senator Grassley initiated this meeting at Prairie Meadows,” said Iowa HBPA executive director Jon Moss, who moderated the session. “We heard from many constituents and are glad all the various components of the racing industry participated, expressed their views, pointed out the start-up issues, the continued issues regarding every facet of HISA at this point in time. And they look to see improvement.

“The takeaway is yet to be determined,” Moss continued. “We are very thankful that we are not racing January 1st to see how the ADMC (Anti-Doping and Medication Control) program shakes out. We have our continued concerns how horsemen are going to understand and completely change their training regimens and medication regimens to fully comply with the new rules that go into effect January 1. The HBPA requested a delayed implementation and were told no. It's obvious that HISA has a huge burden placed on top of them and that additional time would be to their benefit to make sure everything is correct. Once again, rushing to push something out the door that's not fully vetted and fully ready does an injustice to a $63 billion a year industry.”

Senator Grassley has publicly expressed concern about the rocky and chaotic implementation of the Horse Racing Integrity Act that created HISA, a private corporation granted authority to oversee on a federal level aspects of horse racing previously left to individual states.

“Transparency in government is very, very important,” Grassley said in opening the meeting. “You can't expect constituents, taxpayers, residents and citizens of this country to go along with what the government is doing until the government makes it very clear to them what they're doing.

“I've heard a lot about the challenges that you all are having. I've worked with Jon and the Iowa industry to try to find ways to address these concerns. I recently sent a letter to Ms. Lazarus voicing some of our concerns that I'd heard. Unfortunately I felt the response from HISA did not reflect a full understanding of the challenges faced by horsemen, and that's why we're here today. I asked Ms. Lazarus and her staff to come to Iowa and answer questions you may have.”

Lazarus, as in previous appearances with horsemen, asked for patience in implementing a new and complex program of such broad scope. She acknowledged the Authority has had to backtrack on some policies and promised to lean heavily on HISA's recently appointed Horsemen's Advisory Group. That 19-member group, which is to meet monthly, is charged with providing feedback to HISA's executive team and committees on the implementation and refinement of its Racetrack Safety and Anti-Doping and Medication Control regulations. The advisory group includes prominent Iowa horse owner and lawyer Maggi Moss, who participated in Thursday's session.

A major concern expressed at the meeting was HISA's funding. The Iowa racing industry's cost is $1 million out of HISA's announced 2023 budget of $72 million. The assessments for individual states are based on the number of thoroughbred racing starters and purses, Lazarus said.

“To me, you are putting a nail in the coffin of these smaller tracks,” said horse owner-breeder Linda Juckette. “They will not be able to overcome that number. Prairie Meadows alone is $1 million. That's going to get handed down to the owners and the people participating in Iowa.”

Lazarus said states can get credits toward their assessment if they use existing commission staff in certain capacities. Under HISA, she said states will no longer be paying for horse-racing drug testing or the cost of defending appeals of rulings.

Concern that horsemen will wind up footing the bill was not assuaged.

“How can you be against integrity and safety? It's like mom, apple pie and baseball. But I am concerned about the overall cost,” said Dr. Daryl Olsen, a veterinarian and member of Iowa's racing commission. “For Iowa, I'm struggling to see the advantage. Yeah, we need uniformity, but it's the cost that's going to fall back, unfortunately, on the horsemen. Our numbers say it's going to cost twice as much. At the state level, I felt this was something we were handling very well. And now, what have we gained? In a small state, where we're struggling to maintain racing, it makes it just that much more difficult.”

Horsemen also brought up inconsistencies between states in applying the very rules meant to create uniformity. Jon Moss noted conflicts and discrepancies in HISA regulations that are leading to confusion, such as when lameness triggers a voided claim.

“You have a lot of legitimate questions and concerns,” Lazarus said. “What I can say is we're listening and we're adjusting and we're going to get better… If we get something wrong, we'll fix it.” But, she stressed, “that will not happen overnight.”

Lazarus made a couple of commitments that horsemen were happy to hear.

One was her strong recognition of the existence of contamination and environmental transfer that can trigger a positive finding of certain drugs through no fault of a trainer. Lazarus, who in the show-horse world both prosecuted and defended horsemen on drug-violation charges, said it was important to her that the rules have a category for “those substances that have a high risk” of being inadvertently transferred to a horse.

“If you have a positive for one of those substances, there are no consequences to start with,” she said. “If they (internal adjudication panel) decide it was contamination, it's as if it never happened…. We are not trying to punish people for things they can't control, but we are trying to get cheaters out of racing. So the rules reflect that.”

Lazarus also said the efficacy of the popular anti-bleeding medication furosemide (known as Lasix) will be determined by “a totally independent body” with no connection to HISA. She said the first step will be collecting all the existing Lasix studies, which generally have found race-day furosemide to be an effective treatment to prevent or lessen an episode of the pulmonary hemorrhaging that is prevalent in horses.

“We are completely agnostic on Lasix; we have no opinion,” she said. “We are going to wait for the research. We have three years to conduct the study. Nothing is going to change in three years.”

National HBPA President Doug Daniels, an equine veterinarian and horse owner, attended the meeting. He said Prairie Meadows and the Iowa horsemen are representative of many American racetracks already struggling to survive in a tough economic and competitive climate.

“We appreciate Senator Grassley staying on top of the HISA issues facing our horsemen,” Daniels said. “We appreciate Ms. Lazarus' appearance and look forward to her fulfilling promises made. We all want the same thing — safe and clean racing — but we need rules and enforcement that actually make the industry better. That can only come from working with all the involved parties on an equitable basis. Change for change's sake — especially with a huge price tag — doesn't improve racing and could endanger small tracks and small racing stables.”

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