LOS ANGELES, March 17 (Reuters) – US horse racing officials on Friday hoped the implementation of the first nationwide anti-doping program will help restore public confidence in the sport.
The new rules, which take effect March 27, will replace the patchwork of state regulations after high-profile drug scandals and horse deaths prompted the federal government to step in.
If successful, a “groundbreaking” electronic tracking system will reduce fatalities while finding and punishing bad actors, Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), told Reuters.
“That will allow us to gain the trust of the public and really thrive on the sport,” Lazarus said in an interview.
“It used to be a top three sport in America for years, at least in my grandparents’ generation, and it’s fallen behind.
“Part of that is because we lost a step in terms of security and integrity. If we can bring that back, we’ll have a chance to showcase the sport as the best version of itself.”
To lead enforcement, HISA hired former FBI agent Shaun Richards, who led a criminal investigation into racehorse doping that resulted in the indictment of more than 30 people, including trainers Jorge Navarro and Jason Servis.
There was some resistance to the seismic shift in regulations, with some fearing that smaller circuits could be closed if they could not afford the cost of complying with HISA’s previously implemented safety program.
Arizona’s Turf Paradise this week agreed to pay over $150,000 in fees to ensure its track meets HISA standards related to rail track condition, horse-drawn ambulance availability and riding crop violations, the Arizona reported Mirror.
“We will work with any small track that, in good faith, wishes to achieve the required standards,” said Lazarus.
“We have an obligation to ensure that every track meets our standards, but if they are not ready, then we have an obligation to horses and riders to ensure they do not compete in an unsafe environment.”
Lazarus said she hopes industry will view HISA, which operates under the umbrella of the Federal Trade Commission, as beneficial.
“The only thing keeping us from getting the support of the whole community is a trust factor,” she said.
“So to me, success means gaining the riders’ trust and recognizing that this is the right program for our industry.
“And second, to the extent that there are people abusing and cheating on the use of substances in horses, we find them and kick them out of the sport.”
Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio
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