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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


U.S. Trotting Association has given consent to HorseRaceInsider to reprint a letter from its President, Russell C. Williams, which shared his response to a request from USTA Director, David Siegel, calling for Standardbred industry input into the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act of 2020, with respect to participation in the federal racing authority process.

By Russell C. Williams — My friend David Siegel urges the Standardbred industry to be practical and sit down with the federal bill’s key supporters to influence its direction regarding Standardbred racing. This is one of several calls for us to come to the table. All of them suffer from a fundamental misunderstanding of how laws work.

Passing a law is completely different from, say, issuing an invitation to discuss a plan to strengthen integrity, something that never happened in this case. If the bill passes, it will become a federal statute. “Place at the table” platitudes like David’s ignore that with a statute you can get what is provided in the statute, and you cannot get what is not provided. For a negotiation to have any meaning at this point, it would have to be possible for the bill’s language to change before it becomes a statute. Our experience over more than three years demonstrates that this is impossible.

A good example of how the bill leaves nothing to be discussed at any table is its special approach to race-day Lasix. The key supporters selected this particular therapeutic medication and explicitly banned it. A remarkable gauntlet of language in the bill makes even the slightest modification of the ban impossible to achieve. There is, therefore, nothing to negotiate regarding the race-day Lasix ban, enshrined as it is in the language of the bill itself. This exemplifies the fallacy in the “be practical and negotiate” message.

The same goes for all the other ways in which the bill is unacceptable. Since we were first inserted into the bill without our knowledge or consent, the Standardbred industry has repeatedly explained our objections to it, every one of which would require changes to its language. The key supporters have consistently set their faces against even a single change. Thus, a one-sided negotiation has already been going on for more than three years, during which our concerns have been completely disregarded.

The United States Trotting Association is not alone in objecting to the language of the bill. The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association represents 29,000 Thoroughbred people who are not in racing for the silver cups. Like most USTA members, most of them make their living in racing and, like us, they object to the language of the bill. The American Quarter Horse Association has 221,000 members, and they also object to the language of the bill. None of us is interested in an opportunity to sit down now, at the Children’s Table.

The time for harness racing to have been offered a place at a table was before we got shoehorned into a done deal of someone else’s making. That would have been a good faith moment in which to discuss a legislative approach that would credibly allow for the profound differences in the breeds, account for the still-unknown costs that a new federal regulatory tier will rain down on us if we tolerate this legislation, and preserve to us the decisive voice in our own destiny that we deserve to keep.

Fortunately, we have other, eminently practical ways to prevent the federal bill’s key supporters – no, let us call them what they are: its elite supporters — from imposing their notion of a future on us.

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