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Louisville’s Hillerich: HISA will return U.S. racing to Sport of Kings – and that’s not a good thing

The following is an editorial written by Louisville attorney, horse owner and breeder Ron Hillerich (photo courtesy Ron Hillerich):

I am a practicing attorney in Louisville, KY., and have been involved in the racing and breeding of thoroughbred horses since 1992. Over the years my partner and I have been blessed to operate a very small stable and currently have four horses in training and six 2-year-olds on the way. We also have five broodmares and a stallion who stands in Indiana. When I first became involved in the business, I was told racing was “the Sport of Kings” but through luck and dedicated effort we have been able to buck that perception and survive and profit in a most economically challenging industry. Our small stable has generated income for the Breeders’ Cup through fees associated with nominating our foals for participation as well as providing a source of income for numerous workers in the horse industry. 

We have raced horses in Kentucky, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Minnesota, Florida and Maryland, all with not one iota of a problem preparing our horses to race and abide by the rules and regulations in these various jurisdictions. I understand the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) is attempting to bring unity to all of the various racing jurisdictions under the guise of making it a safer sport for the equine and human athletes and to promote confidence in our industry for the general public. Recently, the Fifth Circuit has held HISA unconstitutional and our Sixth Circuit has held that HISA is constitutional. Perhaps the United States Supreme Court will entertain this division in circuits, settling the issue once and for all and find, as I believe, that HISA is unconstitutional and, furthermore, completely unnecessary and too costly. 

I am a firm believer in the old adage “less government makes better government.” In my opinion, HISA is an unnecessary extension of government control and redundant since the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the racetracks, and the courts have done an excellent job of policing our industry and protecting our horses. A quick glimpse at the punishments handed down by not only the various racing commissions but by the tracks themselves over the last several years provides strong proof of the effort made to protect the integrity of our sport and there is simply no need to create additional “red tape” and expense. 

HISA, under the pretext of protecting the equine athlete and bringing uniformity to the industry, wants to further regulate and burden trainers and owners with additional, unnecessary rules and record keeping. Just one simple example: Trainers now have to, on a daily basis, record every medication/procedure administered by the trainer and/or his staff, a diagnosis/reason for the treatment and the name of the contact for the information of the person who administered the treatment. Does this mean that a groom who soaks a horse’s foot in Epsom salt or administers a chiropractic massage or any other number of common procedures will have to record these minor treatment modalities to have on hand if requested by HISA? 

A smaller stable like ours simply does not have, nor can it afford, the record keeping and reporting that HISA is mandating. It is my belief that a smaller stable would need to employ a separate person just to oversee the record keeping for “big brother” and, of course, this additional cost will be passed on from the trainer to an owner like myself. Another example is the additional testing and vet exams now mandated and required by HISA, which cause more costs being passed along to the owner. The long and short of all of this is that HISA, through its zealousness to regulate, will negatively impact smaller stables, forcing them out of business. While thus returning horse racing to the “Sport of Kings,” a vital segment that provides very necessary economic support to the industry will be sacrificed.

HISA might argue it is not burdensome and/or costly, but not being fully transparent with their own budget makes their argument fall on deaf ears. Everyone is painfully aware that more control, regulation and red tape will create more cost and expense. 

It is my belief that state racing commissions such as the KHRC, a state’s court system and the race tracks themselves can continue to implement and enforce the already existing rules and regulations regarding the proper care and treatment of our horses. The National HBPA, through the strong efforts of CEO Eric Hamelback, and the Kentucky HBPA, through the strong leadership of President Rick Hiles, have always been for national uniformity of fair and scientifically based policies that advance industry safety.

Additional regulation by HISA is simply redundant, unnecessary and will not change the horse industry for the better but will deprive smaller owners and stables, such as myself, the opportunity to participate in the future and result in economic loss to the industry, including the Breeders’ Cup. 

Ron Hillerich, President Hillerich Racing, Inc.

325 W. Main Street, Suite 1810 Louisville, KY 40202 

Jennie Rees is a communications and advocacy specialist in the horse industry who spent 32 years covering horse racing for The (Louisville) Courier-Journal before taking a corporate buyout. In addition to handling communications for the Kentucky HBPA, Rees is Kentucky Downs’ publicity director, manages in-season racing publicity for Ellis Park and serves as a consultant to the National HBPA. Other projects include the Preakness Stakes, Indiana Grand’s Indiana Derby Week and work for various HBPA affiliates and horsemen’s associations.