Horsemen File Suit Seeking to Stop Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act

Posted on: March 15, 2021, 11:25h. 

Last updated on: March 16, 2021, 11:13h.

When the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HSIA) was making its way through Congress, a salient talking point was that it had the support of key stakeholders within the racing community. On Monday, a national group representing thoroughbred owners and trainers filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the law from taking effect.

Horseracing Integrity Act
Persie wins a 2018 race at Penn National Race Course in Grantville, Penn. On Monday, horsemen in Pennsylvania and 10 other states joined the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association in a federal lawsuit to stop the implementation of the Horseracing Integrity Act. (Image: Bush Racing Stable/National HBPA)

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), along with affiliate chapters from 11 states, claims Congress acted unconstitutionally when it voted to delegate rule-making authority to an unelected private entity.

The law, which Congress passed at the end of last year as part of an omnibus spending bill, nationalizes drug standards in racing. The measure had been submitted for years by US Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY) and Paul Tonko (D-NY), but it attracted significant attention in 2019 after the equine deaths at Santa Anita captured national attention.

Last summer, US Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) joined the effort and proposed a similar bill that also called for the private national organization oversight authority over other safety-related measures.

Proponents say the law gives the sport a national governing body, just like other sports outlets.

However, the plaintiffs see the new law as a measure to favor the owners and trainers at the top end of the sport at the expense of the rank-and-file horsemen who rarely compete at that level.

Besides Arkansas, other state affiliates joining the lawsuit are Arizona, Indiana, Illinois, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington, and West Virginia. Several notable chapters though, including Kentucky and Florida, are not listed in the case.

Horsemen Raise Concerns About Cost

The horsemen who filed the lawsuit said there was never any real talk about the costs, nor how to fund the new law.

There’s a real concern among thoroughbred horse owners that this could put us out of business,” said Bill Walmsley, president of the Arkansas HBPA. “By passing HISA, Congress picked winners and losers and put well-connected owners in charge of horseracing across the country.”

While HSIA enjoyed support from the likes of the Stronach Group, Churchill Downs, the New York Racing Association, Keeneland, The Jockey Club, and the Breeders’ Cup, the National HBPA had questioned whether the measure would truly be able to accomplish what it seeks – to improve the safety and welfare of the horses and jockeys.

One of the big concerns for the horsemen was a ban on the race-day administration of Lasix, which is used to prevent pulmonary bleeding.

Animal welfare groups pushed for a ban on race-day drug applications, and The Stronach Group and other track operators have established policies limiting their use for older horses in non-stakes races. However, a report on the deaths at Stronach-owned Santa Anita two years ago said race-day medications had little effect on the fatalities.

About the Case

The horsemen are represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a public interest law group that takes on Constitutional rights cases.

“All Americans should be concerned when Congress gives power to regulate an entire industry to a private group of industry insiders,” said Brian Kelsey, senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center.

The suit, filed in the US District Court in the Northern District of Texas, lists the Federal Trade Commission, Acting Chair Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, FTC Commissioners, and the members of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s nominating committee as defendants.

The law is expected to be implemented in 2022.