HISA drug rules take effect

A flurry of dueling press releases heralded the onset Monday of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s (HISA) anti-doping and medication control program.

With the Federal Trade Commission having given its final signoff on the new rules, HISA will now take charge of drug rules and enforcement for most, though not all, of the racing nation.

“As of today, all of HISA’s regulations are in effect, thanks to the incredible collaboration of horsemen, racetracks and state racing commissions across the country,” HISA chief Lisa Lazarus wrote in an open letter to the racing industry, adding, “Many in our sport have long called for uniformity in how we protect our equine athletes and demonstrate the integrity of the sport, and I am incredibly proud that today we are taking the first steps in making this dream a reality.”

The medication control program will be administered by the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU), an independent body contracted by HISA to run the program. HIWU is a subsidiary of Drug Free Sport International, which describes itself as “a worldwide leader in the sport drug testing industry.”

If the new rules and regime have the desired effect, they will create a uniform and level playing field that better protects horses and riders while promoting the integrity of the sport.

The new rules divide drugs into banned substances never permitted in a horse and controlled medications generally allowed but not permitted to be present in the horse’s system on race day. Horses will now be tested for these substances following races as well as outside competition windows through an intelligence-based testing system developed by HIWU. 

“In my lifetime, we’ve never had uniformity. You know, every state is different, every track might have different rules,” bloodstock agent David Ingordo said during an OwnerView webinar. “Under HISA and the Anti-Doping, and Medication Control portion of it especially, we are going to have uniformity.”

“If you are doing the right things and following the rules, you are going to be fine,” Lazarus added during the same webinar. “You are actually going to be better because you’re not going to feel like you need to break the rules to win. Ultimately, we are trying to protect trainers, the vast majority of which want to compete clean.”

The new rules generally prohibit the presence of any medication in a horse’s system on race day. The anti-bleeder medication Lasix will be permitted, but not in two-year-olds and not in stakes races. After three years, it, too, will likely be banned.

Lazarus spent Monday at Parx Racing, one of a small handful of tracks to race and thus among the first to do so under the full suite of HISA rules. She indicated that HIWU staff would be on hand to assist tracks as they resume racing under the new rules.

HISA, which had implemented its racetrack safety rules last July 1, was created by Congress in 2020 after a yearslong lobbying push by the Jockey Club and other racing organizations. While the two major horsemen’s groups split, one supporting and one opposing the new program, many rank-and-file horsemen fear federal overreach and the pending Lasix ban.

A lawsuit filed by one of those horsemen’s groups, the Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA), struck paydirt in November when a panel of the Fifth Circuit US Court of Appeals unanimously ruled HISA an unconstitutional delegation of federal authority to a private entity.

“The Authority is barreling forward to implement HISA, and the FTC is enabling it by rubber-stamping another set of seriously flawed rules,” National HBPA President Doug Daniels, DVM, said in a statement Monday. “Industry concerns must be taken into account, and we believe no one at the FTC is listening. That’s why the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled HISA unconstitutional in our lawsuit. Without our efforts, I fear for our future. Today, we plan to file a motion with the Northern District of Texas court asking the judge immediately to stop these rules from going into effect.”

After the Fifth Circuit had ruled HISA unconstitutional, Congress in December amended the law to grant the Federal Trade Commission greater oversight authority. Earlier this March, the Sixth Circuit US Court of Appeals found HISA to be constitutional.

All of which leaves HISA and the Thoroughbred industry in an interesting spot. Two appeals courts have issued conflicting rulings, with the underlying law itself having been amended in the interim period. Whether the law will ultimately survive constitutional challenges – and how to handle decisions made under its auspices in the meantime – remains uncertain. The law will go into effect in most of the country, except for states in the Fifth Circuit and those that were parties to the suit.

The Association of Racing Commissioners International, which had pushed for different solutions to the uniformity question, pointed to these uncertainties in a statement it issued Monday.

“The industry and ultimately the public will not be served if the unresolved constitutional issues are reason to prevent cheaters from being promptly sanctioned once the case is proven,” ARCI president Ed Martin wrote. “It is sad that the original proponents of the HISA Act have so far failed to come together with the considerable constituencies challenging it in the courts to forge a workable alternative that everyone can live with that will also mitigate the economic impact of the new program on the racetracks and industry.”