First month shows little progress, frustrates punters
If you’ve spoken to a horse player in the past few months, you’ve heard of HISA. The Horse Racing Integrity and Security Act came into force on July 1. The principle was to create a uniform set of rules and standards to make horse racing a better sport.
Horse racing is a unique sport. The same group of equine and human athletes compete in different tracks across the country. What many don’t realize is that each state has its own racing commission and its own rules.
For comparison, imagine all teams in the NFC East having to set their own rules for PAT. When you were playing Dallas, you hit the old chip shot extra point, but in Washington you had to kick the new longer extra point. Meanwhile, in the Meadowlands, the Giants have decided you have to do two after every score. In Philadelphia, touchdowns are worth 7 points and you leave your kicker at home.
For any football fan that would be ridiculous, but that’s the day-to-day reality of horse racing.
Rules of jockeys
Much like the soccer metaphor, jockeys are on it all the time. The most talented riders will crisscross the country to find their way on the back of the best mounts. This means that jockeys will often travel to different destinations for an isolated race day. This creates serious problems.
In New York at Saratoga Irad Ortiz could use his whip freely, but if he flew to ride a horse in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar he would be limited in the use of the crop. If the year was 2021 and he had taken a trip to Monmouth Park roll in the Haskell he couldn’t use the whip at all except in an emergency.
The Stewards’ position has always been that it is up to the jockey to be aware of how the rules differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
Arbitration of Commissioners
This inconsistency probably has no remedy. Even the invention of replay booths and challenges did little to improve the subjective nature of judging. However, like any sport horse race, its umpires are called stewards. Their interpretations of faults can vary widely from state to state.
Their choice to disqualify or “keep a horse up” following an investigation can cost bettors dearly.
Perhaps one of the biggest inconsistencies is the use of medication. Horses are like people and intense physical activity can lead to pain. This pain must be treated. However, different states had different laws on what different drugs could be administered and when.
In 2021, the first horse to cross the line in the kentucky derby was the late Spirit of Medina. The colt tested positive for betamethasone the day after the race. The drug itself is legal if it is out of the system on race day. The possible disqualification was not for a prohibited substance, but for a legal excess of drugs.
This overage led to Bob Baffert being suspended from Kentucky and New York, but not from Maryland, California and New Jersey.
Need for change
The above issues describe the inconsistencies between horses and jockeys in the sport. In reality, these are just the tip of the iceberg. There are other issues related to the Silver Bolts that seem to come after the doors are opened. There are inconsistent rules as to whether inputs should be paired when sharing connections. How each track handles late scratches may be different depending on the state commission. The list continues.
With all the issues that are present, the need for a unified governing body has been a need for some time.
HISA’s response to Racing’s inaction
Horse racing is an industry stuck in its old ways. Although many within the sport were pushing for a unified set of rules to govern all jurisdictions, the game continued to drag its feet until it was too late.
In 2020, after a number of mainstream media stories about the number of horse deaths, the Horse Integrity and Safety Act was enacted to do what the industry had failed to do for years. . It came into effect on July 1.
HISA goes into effect
Many in the industry feared HISA. The private institution created with government authority has done little to ingratiate itself with the horse racing community. Equine industry stakeholders have been largely excluded from important decisions.
The board was filled with lawyers and business types from outside the industry. The July 1 implementation deadline loomed, with horse racing pushing unsuccessfully to delay the program.
The industry blinks
After months of intense fights and struggles trying to register the industry has resigned itself to living under HISA. Owners have registered themselves and their horses. Uniform drug policies and riding crop rules were put in place across the country, and the organization began issuing penalties for violators.
HISA and the betting public
In general, the betting public should welcome consistency in horse racing rules. This means less guess work for handicappers trying to figure out who will run the best race. It should also usher in a new era of integrity in the betting markets and consistent scratch rules across all jurisdictions.
Do not deliver
Unfortunately, at present, the hastily deployed entity has not provided these possible benefits to the horse player. Consistency with the races will take some getting used to, but as the surface of the tapeta to Gulfstream Parkplayers will adapt to the new circumstances.
The biggest problem was the loss of opportunities for highly competitive racing in a challenging jurisdiction.
Texas takes a stand
All major racing jurisdictions relented and let HISA into their product except 1. The State of Texas objected and did not comply with the new organization. They refused to join HISA or be governed by its rules. They argued that the Texas Horse Racing Commission was the superior law in the land for horse racing in the Lone Star State.
A costly decision for Texas Racing and bettors
The decision to resist did not come without consequences. The refusal to join HISA brought an immediate end to the interstate simulcast.
Tracks like Lone Star Park and Sam Houston Race Course have developed a nice little niche with horse players across the country. However, due to refusal to join HISA, their TV signals are no longer allowed outside the state of Texas and all online platforms like TVG, Paris DRFand Twinspires had to remove tracks as betting options.
It didn’t take long for the economic impact of HISA to be felt in Texas. On June 25, the track processed over $1.7 million. The first day without a simulcast due to their non-compliance was $215,000. That’s an 85% decrease in grip!
Sam Houston’s track announcer Nick Tammaro even suggested on the In The Money podcast network that if the state doesn’t understand something, the track won’t be able to open for a season that includes races on really competitive turf.
How history views the creation of HISA is still ongoing. Like any new business, there are growing pains, but one thing is certain. After the organization’s first month of authority, the comment line reads, “stumbled through the door.”
Owners, trainers, jockeys and even horse players saw little positive impact from the organization’s creation in its first month of existence. There is still a long way to go before the program delivers on its promise of making horse racing a better sport for everyone.
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