Steve Stewart and Linda Toscano issue another open letter to the industry

HRU Feedback (2021-04-25)

April 24, 2021

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Open letter to the harness racing industry from Steve Stewart and Linda Toscano

Last month we published an open letter to the harness racing community urging USTA leadership to negotiate in good faith over the details of the new federal law that will govern horse racing in the United States. Over 200 members of the standardbred industry, including many of the sport’s most prominent owners, trainers, and breeders signed that letter (full story here).

Many other people, realizing the new law is a reality and that we ought to have a seat at the table as the new regulations are created, have approached us since then to offer their support, as well.

We wanted to share an important update with those of you who supported the letter and those of you who may have your doubts. This past week, we were part of a small group who met virtually for one hour with Travis Tygan, the head of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), which will be responsible for implementing the medication rules and drug testing under the new law. Tygart will work with and report to members of a federal panel that will soon be announced to help bring uniformity and more results to drug testing in our sport.

Our conversation with Tygart was informative and productive. He is certainly open to the idea of having harness racing “opt in” to the new rules. We discussed funding and medication rules, testing protocols, and other matters of interest to the harness racing community. We believe there is an opportunity under the new law, with the guidance of USADA, for the standardbred community to present its best case for why our medication rules should be different in some ways from the rules governing other breeds.

More importantly, Tygart said he was interested in continuing the dialogue with the harness racing community to see if we can make more progress. We have two requests: First, if any of you have specific questions you would like to ask Tygart please send them to us at: We will collect them and try to get them answered at our next meeting. Second, we urge USTA leadership, which publicly ignored our open letter, to join the next virtual meeting with Tygart so that they, too, can get their questions answered.

— Steve Stewart and Linda Toscano

Thoughts on Ontario’s racing shutdown

I just read your interview with Jody Jamieson, and share his concern about the future of Ontario harness racing (full story here).

Lots of blame to pass around given our current COVID situation. While we can blame who ever we want, the fact is (premier) Doug Ford and his cabinet made the decision to shut down racing. First shutdown April 7-28. The recent two-week extension now means we go until at least May 20. They will be the ones to decide when to re-open.

Seems time for ALL horsepeople to directly contact Ford, Cabinet and MPPs. I believe Ford (trying to make up for his most recent over reactions) will re-open golf courses — possibly as early as this weekend. WEG Chair Jim Lawson suggests opening golf courses might give us a chance to get our foot in the door.

Important statements:

1. WEG chair Jim Lawson:

“If they’re going to pick up the pen and change the approach to golf courses, then pick up the pen and listen to us in regards to horse racing, too.

“The current stay-at-home order in Ontario ends on May 20. On Monday, the province announced that it will offer the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to individuals aged 40 and over at pharmacy and primary care settings across the province starting April 20.”

2. Standardbred owner Scott Horner:

“There seems to be irrational inconsistency on who can carry on business and who cannot do so. With respect to major professional sports, as part of the protocol with the Canadian Feds and applicable Provinces, every athlete and other team member is tested daily. If positive, the athlete or other team member goes into isolation. Has racing offered any such program? Rapid tests are now available.

3. Vaccine info on SC site:

“The Government of Ontario has now moved to Phase 2 of its COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan which provides eligibility to essential frontline workers who cannot work from home, which includes agriculture and farm workers. Moreover, the vaccination plan is also now prioritizing residents living in hot spots, which includes Woodbine Racetrack. To see if you live in a hot spot, please click here.

To summarize the comments:

1. Lawson suggests racing could potentially open up when golf courses do.
2. Steps outlined needed for vaccines for people 40 and older.
3. Horner suggests recent negative test (possibly rapid) or vaccine.

You are crazy if you don’t get a vaccine ASAP. I had COVID a month ago (as did my wife and three adult children) You can’t even feel the vaccine needle (it’s so small). Vaccine discomfort is minimal — Covid symptoms are HORRID.

The path to move forward is clearly available to us, so let’s hope our associations and members take SIGNIFICANT steps to control our own destination before the exodus grows even more.

— Cam McKnight / Ballykeel Racing

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