First Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority rules go into effect Friday
In a one-on-one interview, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said the authority is ready for the initial rollout.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - It has been a busy four-and-a-half months since Lisa Lazarus was called to her post.
“When I took the job on February 15, 2022, I knew there was a lot of work ahead,” she said last week in a one-on-one interview with WKYT’s Garrett Wymer. “But also a lot of incredible people who wanted to be involved in making this happen and making this come to life.”
Thoroughbred horse racing is one of Kentucky’s signature industries, and this week, in some ways, it is getting a new boss when the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s (HISA) first safety rules go into effect Friday.
As HISA CEO, Lazarus has been traveling across the country, working with state regulators and meeting with industry groups about seven new federal horseracing safety rules that go into effect July 1, including the in-race riding crop rule, the voided claim rule, enhanced jockey safety requirements and veterinary reporting obligations. The sport has been under intense scrutiny in recent years over on-track deaths, doping and other high-profile controversies.
“No. 1 I think we have an obligation to the public and to the generations where our social license to operate is sometimes questioned to show that we are doing our best, we are listening, and at the center of everything we do is the welfare of the horse,” Lazarus said.
[Watch the full interview with HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus here.]
All racing participants - including jockeys, horsemen, owners, trainers and veterinarians - are also required to register with HISA and meet certain requirements. As of June 23, about 27,000 horses and participants had been registered, Lazarus said - about 75% of those she expects to need to be registered by Friday in order to race starting Saturday.
HISA was created by Congress - established by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act - as the new authority to draft and enforce uniform safety and integrity rules for thoroughbred racing across the country.
“I’ve always believed that the future prosperity of the sport depends on uniformity of the rules of racing,” Rep. Andy Barr, R-KY 06, said on the House floor in September in support of the legislation.
The initiative has gotten a lot of support, including from groups like Animal Wellness Action, but it has also gotten some pushback - namely, two federal lawsuits challenging HISA’s constitutionality. Both were dismissed but are pending appeal.
“Change is hard,” Lazarus said. “This industry has been operating the way it’s been operating for centuries. Horse racing is really the only sport - I’m going to call it a sport; it’s also an industry, but it’s also a sport - that I’m aware of that doesn’t have one national governing body, one national uniform set of rules. And I believe that’s incredibly important to make the sport safer and fairer, but also for the public image of the sport.”
Another big focus of HISA - minimum safety standards at race tracks, including increased oversight of racing surfaces - will phase in over time.
HISA is overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In July HISA will submit to the FTC its final proposed rules for the Anti-Doping and Medication Control program. Once finalized, those rules will go into effect in January.
“It’s going to take a bit of time for the kinks to be ironed out, but ultimately when the dust settles, I believe there’s going to be the realization that uniform is actually a pretty cool thing, you know?” Lazarus said.
Lazarus comes to HISA from the Morgan Sports Law Firm, where she led the equestrian practice. Before that, she worked at an international governing body for equestrian sports and spent a decade at the NFL on the league’s labor relations counsel.
Lazarus says her love of horses goes back to her childhood.
“When I was a kid, my grandfather was a horseman and my father loved horse racing and I would go to the track all the time,” she said. “My kids have no interest in it. I could see if you’re outside Kentucky maybe, that we don’t have that generation to generation passing on of the sport, and I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference so that we do have a sport that’s there for our children and grandchildren and for generations to come - not just in Kentucky but across the country. Because I think for the sport to be healthy in Kentucky it has to be healthy everywhere.”
That is one reason why today she feels the responsibility of her role.
“This has to work,” she said. “HISA cannot fail. This is horse racing’s moment in time. All of us at HISA - we have an incredible board, a great team of people - we are going to kill ourselves to make sure that it is a success and we don’t lose this moment in time, and that we use it to the best of our ability - because it’s incredibly important to horse racing.”
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