by Joe Faraldo / chairman of the USTA
*** Editor’s note: The following are comments made this week at the annual USTA directors’ meeting in reference to the following articles concerning the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA): Article 1 | Article 2 | Article 3
I was asked to make some comments, so let me start with something we should not lose sight of: the USTA mandate is to promote and secure uniformity in rules and conditions affecting harness racing.
The USTA is the first, sometimes the last, and often times the only protector, defender and proponent of the breed, as well as the industry structure through which the breed’s animals are bred, born, nurtured, cared for, raced and ultimately retired.
Its directors are all elected to represent horsemen, breeders and tracks from Maine to California.
We are a membership organization dedicated to defend, protect and advance the interests of our industry. Tasked with, familiarizing ourselves with the detailed facts on any and all issues that affect our game.
We are responsible for setting goals to best achieve what is in the interests of our sport and doing what is necessary to accomplish those goals. It does not mean that we must march to the sound of the loudest voices or differing opinions, well-meaning as they may be, but lacking in our experience.
People have a right to disagree with our decisions from time to time, but undermining the directors and leadership, representing some 17,000 members is not the way to do that. When there is disagreement, we are more often than not told we should stand aside and act only as a breed registry.
But there are many things the USTA has done apart from its role as a breed registry. For example, it has: • Created a strategic wagering program.
• Developed online entries.
• Partnered with TrackMaster to provide a more attractive presentation of our wagering product.
• Retained a lobbyist to help us navigate through intricate legislative proposals that may adversely affect our game.
Provided seed money to help a Standardbred Transition Alliance emerge.
The USTA sat at the RMTC (Racing Medication and Testing Consortium) table for 10 years.
The USTA funded RMTC during that period and paid into that organization some $730,000 believing, naively perhaps, that we could get separate rules for harness racing considered and enacted. Over that period we negotiated, cajoled and literally begged for separate consideration, only to be ignored.
The USTA has had the unfortunate experience of having thoroughbred rules put forward in the interests of uniformity, and rammed down our throats. Those rules have wreaked their share of havoc in thoroughbred racing, and have now entered our industry.
In 2013, then president Phil Langley, who had gone to nearly every RMTC meeting with our annual support check, and executive VP in tow, pulled out from RMTC in sheer frustration.
Make no mistake, be it RMTC alone or along with ARCI (Association of Racing Commissioners International) with which it still has major influence, or a private entity acting under a questionable delegation of authority from the federal government, the result for harness racing, unless the law is amended, will continue to ignore our needs. Relying on a mere phase within the law to satiate our concerns is no substitute for concise language for separate and where appropriate different rules that address our longstanding concerns and distinct performance model.
If the USTA were to write a set of rules for thoroughbreds and quarter horses, would The Jockey Club and the AQHA just let these rules stand that adversely affected their games?
Of course not.
So, should we sit on our hands as thoroughbred rules are shoved down our throats from wherever the source, under the false but laudable guise of “integrity and safety”? If we don’t stand up for the way our breed is treated and its horsemen are to be regulated, based upon our vast experience who can?
Let’s be truthful, and let’s be real. The USTA is the only organization that has the experience to accomplish the goals necessary to adequately protect our industry.
The Jockey Club doesn’t do anything for our industry. It does things to our industry.
The RMTC doesn’t do anything for our industry, it does things to our industry.
Congress has now listened to these thoroughbred interests, and opened a wide door that will eventually do much more harm to our industry than good. It will do so at a financial cost much higher than the three quarters of a million dollars spent with RMTC trying to advance our interests, over a decade of rejection. If we don’t protect our horses and our industry, we’ll simply be subsumed by thoroughbred interests that would not whimper a bit at our demise and take unto themselves whatever we may have left.
The USTA owes our constituency the obligation to dig much deeper and use our brains, instead of our knees to remedy the ills in this law and in our industry.
Consider how infinitesimal our breakdown and death rate is when compared to the other racing breeds. Is preserving much of the status quo really an irrational decision?
Should we, without pushing back, accept a levy on harness racing to reduce the thoroughbreds cost to resolve track safety issues we don’t have?
Should we just accept that the thoroughbreds can have one rule regulating a specific medication, the quarter horse industry a different one, but harness shall not have its own? Should we just give up and hope for the best, or have we not learned our lesson?
Let’s all commit to not shut our ears to the clamor for concessions, but effectuate statutory modifications that are necessary, judicious and separate.
As you can see I am a little sick and tired of being made sick and tired by those who have not been involved as deeply as the USTA over the past 15 years trying to get rules that fit our performance model and who have jumped up in the rigging to attempt to undermine the USTA leadership. I have oft times seen that before as a strategy in negotiations.
All of this while the USTA president has agreed to the convocation of a “round table” to hear and discuss the issues we believe need to be placed specifically in the language of the law. The USTA shared its considerable work product with the group and the response, by some, was a letter writing campaign based upon who knows what representations were made or false premises stated including that this is a done deal. It is far, far from it, as expected imminent litigation will show. Litigation not to be paid for by the USTA, but by third parties circling their wagons around the Jockey Club initiative.
I believe we all seek the same result. Some think, as we once did, that things can be worked out, but we are at the point that if it isn’t in the law we are no longer accepting “trust us” from anyone. We have gone down that rabbit hole once and we are not sticking our nose down there again.