Lazarus asks racing commissions to give HISA ‘a chance’

Lisa Lazarus, the new executive director of the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Authority created by federal legislation, addressed state racing regulators Monday, calling on them to “just give us a chance to get it right.” “.

Lazarus, who previously worked at equestrian sports’ international governing body and the National Football League, spoke as the International Association of Racing Commissioners kicked off its 88th Annual Conference on Safe Horses and Honest Sport in Lexington, Ky. ARCI is the coordinating organization for the official regulatory bodies for professional horse and greyhound racing.

Much of the four-day conference is focused on HISA, which will fundamentally change the way American horse racing is overseen, taking over drug and testing policy and many aspects of safety from what was previously the domain of state racing commissions.

“This is hard work, a significant change for all of us,” Lazarus told the assembly of regulators and other industry bodies. “We’re going to do our best to get it right. But we’re going to make mistakes. And we’re going to have to correct them, because it’s never been done before. So I’m just asking you to give us a chance to get it right, but if you have criticism tell us and give us a chance to fix it and work together.”

So far, there have been far more questions than answers since Congress passed HISA-enabling legislation as part of the Omnibus Spending and Covid-19 bill in December 2020.

The ARCI conference is the first time that HISA has made so many members available to its staff to speak in public. Lazarus also said HISA expects to announce an agreement with an independent enforcement agency in May, as mandated by federal law that goes into effect July 1. The United States Anti-Doping Agency, which for years had been promoted as the enforcement agency, walked out of the negotiations at the end of December.

While the safety and wellness components of the new HISA regulations take effect on July 1, the new anti-doping and drug control policies have been postponed until early 2023.

Ed Martin, president and CEO of ARCI, called HISA “done.”

“Unless some judge says something different, we have to make it work because this is going to be reality,” Martin said, referring to lawsuits that various jockey associations, some states and other entities have filed in federal court challenging the law. constitutionality of the legislation. “We have a responsibility to the general public, the industry and these wonderful animals that are the cornerstone of our sport.”

Lazarus, who began his job in mid-February, said HISA’s mission boils down to three things: safety for human and equine participants, national uniformity that will benefit those who “want to play by the rules,” and addressing the creation and implementation of rules “in a spirit of collaboration with industry”.

“We are going to do everything we can to find a way forward,” he said.

Washington Horse Racing Commission Chairman Bob Lopez, the outgoing president of ARCI, offered a perspective through a different lens. Lopez suggested that HISA hurt itself by largely ignoring state regulators and their institutional knowledge by being in the trenches crafting rules and policies for horse racing for decades.

“The ARCI has been and continues to be extremely concerned about the impact and implementation that the Horse Racing Safety and Integrity Act will have on Thoroughbred racing,” Lopez said in pre-recorded remarks after circumstances prevented him from attending. to the conference. “We see many exciting possibilities to enhance the good work we collectively do. We also see how missteps and missed opportunities can make it more difficult for the industry, and those in it, to survive in a highly competitive market.”

López said that ARCI offered to “help HISA through the labyrinth of various state governments…. We offered our best advice on how to make all of this work. We offered them free office space, free support staff, free committee coordination. Those offers and much of our advice on the realities of dealing with state government were often ignored.

“Perhaps it was the enormity of the challenge they faced and the fact that almost everyone involved had never done this before. They are certainly within their rights to do so, but ignoring the wisdom of those who understand state governance was inexcusable.” Many of my colleagues and I wonder why they chose to make this so difficult for themselves. While we welcome their new CEO, Lisa Lazarus, and wish her success, I fear that what she has inherited will continue to be problematic for them and the industry. They would help regulate.

In his comments, Lopez noted that many of the HISA-mandated security rules that go into effect on July 1 were taken from ARCI’s model rules.

“You should take that as a compliment,” he said in the comments of his video. “…I am confident that our new colleagues at HISA will come to appreciate the level of commitment and expertise we all share to the safe and honest sport of horse racing and the well-being of our human and equine participants.”

The conference comes at a crucial time for horse racing, with the high-profile federal indictments of more than two dozen people in suspected horse doping schemes two years ago. That was followed by the disqualification of 2021 Kentucky Derby first-place winner Medina Spirit for race-day overuse of therapeutic medication and the subsequent 90-day suspension of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. And furthermore, sports betting is now legal in 33 states and is rapidly changing the betting and regulatory landscape.

“There are a lot of things that people are eager to find out about, and I would say probably including Lisa,” Martin said in his presentation of Lazarus. “It’s complicated. It’s layered. It’s not easy… I met Lisa in person for the first time (Sunday) night and I said, ‘I think you have the worst job in racing.’ You know. But we all have challenges. We all have to try to do the right thing… The survival of this industry depends on every aspect of it. We had a great conversation. All I can say is this lady gets it. I look forward to working with her. ”.

For his part, Lazarus said, “I actually think I have the most phenomenal job and an incredible opportunity.”

He praised the racing regulators, saying: “They’re on the front lines… We’re not here to say, ‘That job is not a good job.’ We just want to go further and really focus on consistency. That’s where racing has a bit of catching up to do compared to other sports.”

The great unknown remains how much the new authority will cost and who will pay for it.

“I understand that all of you are subject to tight budgets,” Lazarus said. “The questions I get all the time are ‘This all sounds great, how much is it going to cost?’ I wish I could answer that question that’s here right now as far as specificity. What I can tell you right now is that we get it, we get it, we’re sensitive to it. We are going to work diligently to ensure we utilize efficiencies, minimize costs where we can, and ultimately seek alternative financing models to help the industry bear the cost of these rules and regulations.”