Takeaways From Tucson: HISA Talk Dominates Global Symposium On Racing - Horse Racing News | Paulick Report
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Takeaways From Tucson: HISA Talk Dominates Global Symposium On Racing

Dr. Susan Stover (right) chairs HISA’s Racetrack Safety Committee

With the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) beginning to roll out proposed regulations to the Federal Trade Commission in advance of its scheduled start-up July 1, 2022, the agency created through federal legislation to regulate anti-doping and safety policies for Thoroughbred racing dominated discussions on the opening day of the 47th annual Global Symposium on Racing at Loews Ventana Canyon in Tucson, Ariz., on Tuesday. The Symposium is conducted by the University of Arizona's Race Track Industry Program under the leadership of its new chair, Robert Hartman, a graduate of the program and a former racing industry executive.

Here are some takeaways from the day's presentations and discussions, which included four segments focused on HISA, a keynote address from new National Thoroughbred Racing Associations president and CEO Tom Rooney, and a high-powered panel featuring the top executives of four major racetrack organizations: 1/ST Racing (The Stronach Group), Del Mar, Keeneland and the New York Racing Association.

HISA Drug Testing Will Be Phased In

Charles Scheeler, the chairman of HISA, outlined the progress the organization has made during a very compressed timeline from passage of the legislation in December 2020 until its mandated launch July 1. A board of directors and chairman was named in May 2021, interim staff including a CEO was hired in July, when meetings and collaboration with the presumed enforcement arm, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), began. In September, stakeholder talks started, along with meetings with current state regulators. HISA presented its draft of proposed safety regulations to the FTC on the eve of the Symposium. It requested and received a waiver from the FTC to delay submission of proposed anti-doping and medication policies for at least 10 days (until Dec. 16). Draft anti-doping/medication regulations shared with industry organizations were met with considerable feedback. The FTC will conduct public register review in January and February and the rules must be approved by March 1 – four months in advance of HISA's launch.

Scheeler said the final regulations approved “will not be perfect” or “written in stone.”

When HISA does begin operations on July 1, it will only conduct out-of-competition testing, leaving post-race testing and adjudication of any violations from those tests in the hands of the state racing commissions for the rest of the year. Scheeler said HISA would take over post-race testing on Jan. 1, 2023. HISA would adjudicate any violations detected from out-of-competition tests.

Scheeler said HISA also hopes to work with racing commissions when it begins post-race testing to use existing personnel for race-day blood and urine collections, adding that if something isn't broken HISA is not interested in fixing it.

Technology And Big Data Will Be Critical

Scheeler and Dr. Susan Stover, a HISA board member and chair of the Racetrack Safety Committee, spoke about the importance of technology and data to HISA's success. The “transformational database” referred to by Scheeler would include information on both covered persons and covered horses and provide trainers and owners an interface to report whenever a horse's location changes, an important component for out-of-competition testing.

Stover, whose breakthrough research at the University of California-Davis has led to greater understanding of injury prevention, said the opportunity to collect comprehensive data is extremely important for racing to reduce the rate of fatal or serious injuries and for the sport to maintain what she called its Social License to Operate (SLO) with the public.

Stover pointed out that the United States has in recent years reduced its rate of fatal injuries per thousand starts by 40% but still has a rate higher than in the United Kingdom, Australia/New Zealand and Hong Kong. “We have work to do,” she said.

Dr. Sue Stover (right) and Ann McGovern

Fatalities aren't the only concern to Stover, who said 3% of horses at the tracks are taken out of training each month, an attrition rate she estimated costs nearly $82 million to horse owners every month.

Some form of pre-existing condition was detected in almost 90% of fatally injured horses she has examined over the years, Stover said. Factors that led to increased risk included corticosteroid injections, recent lameness and abnormalities in pre-race exams. Stover said data collected on training intensity (speed works at longer distances) may help HISA develop best training practices, especially for horses coming off layoffs.

Racetrack accreditations by HISA will be phased in, with tracks currently accredited by the NTRA getting an interim three-year accreditation with HISA, provided they make good faith efforts in certain areas and adhere to data reporting requirements.

Ann McGovern, a racetrack safety committee member, said in response to a question from the audience that tracks that fail to be accredited will lose their ability to conduct interstate wagering.

HISA/USADA Price Tag Remains a Mystery

Scheeler said HISA was not yet in position to submit a budget for HISA operations, in part because it does not have a contract with USADA. Costs, he said, would also depend in part on how things are worked out with state racing commissions. “It will cost money,” Scheeler said, “but this is an investment.” He compared the industry's failure to advance safety and anti-doping programs to bridges and roads crumbling because of the lack of infrastructure investment. Some of that investment will be in what Scheeler described as a “powerful and rigorous investigation program” similar to the 5Stones Investigations unit hired by The Jockey Club that investigated many of the trainers, veterinarians and drug suppliers who were indicted on federal charges in March 2020.

In a separate panel, Ed Martin, president of the Association of Racing Commissioners International, said language in the bill that created HISA was flawed because it does not require state racing commissioners to help with funding. “They made a mistake with this bill,” said Martin. “They allowed the states to walk away.” Martin suggested that state budget directors will withdraw funding for horse racing regulations and drug testing once they find out they aren't required to help fund HISA.

Therapeutic Medication List Still Being Developed

A group that included Adolpho Birch, HISA board member and chair of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Committee, reviewed how medication violations will be adjudicated, separating primary (most serious) and secondary (therapeutic) drug positives.

Jeff Cook, general counsel for USADA, said a goal will be to adjudicate cases more quickly: four weeks when doping violations for secondary medications are challenged and eight weeks for primary drugs. A national stewards panel will adjudicate the secondary cases with an arbitrator used for the more serious violations. Cases can also be appealed to an FTC administrative law judge.

Two notable changes from the current process are that split samples would not go to a lab of the trainer's choosing and public disclosure of complaints may come as soon as the trainer is notified.

Birch, general counsel for the Tennessee Titans, served previously as the NFL's top anti-doping officials and helped draft the league's drug policies. Birch said the NFL was struggling with controlling the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs, with some players dying from drugs and others feeling the need to cheat to compete. “If we didn't change,” he said, “the sport was going to suffer irreparably.”

Dr. Tessa Muir, USADA's director of equine science, said the HISA Anti-Doping and Medication Control Committee is still in the process of drafting a therapeutic medication list and screening limits for those drugs.

Mr. Rooney Goes Back To Washington

In his keynote address – his first as NTRA president and CEO – former Florida Congressman Tom Rooney said his mission will be to represent the horse industry in Washington, D.C., where he served five terms in the House of Representatives, from 2009-'19.

Rooney succeeds Alex Waldrop, who served as NTRA chief executive for 15 years. Waldrop was honored on Tuesday by the Race Track Industry Program with the Clay Puett Award for outstanding contributions to the industry.

From a family that owns the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and has been involved in Thoroughbred, Standardbred and Greyhound racing, Rooney brings a solid resume to the position. As a former member of Congress, he understands how important it is to have an industry representative in the nation's capital.

That's never more important than today, he said, referencing high profile events like the sudden death of Medina Spirit, the first-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, and the fact that “our opponents have not gone away and they never, ever will go away.”

Incoming NTRA president and CEO Tom Rooney

Rooney's family owns the Palm Beach Kennel Club in Florida, where Greyhound racing was recently eliminated in a state-wide vote.

Rooney said he will work to support a smooth transition to HISA, help racing benefit from sports betting and maintain favorable tax benefits for horse owners.

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