Hambletonian Society preparing now for the day HISA may be adopted by harness racing

The contentious body now governing thoroughbred racing in the United States may one day be adopted by harness racing and John Campbell wants the Society to be well prepared if that happens.

by Dave Briggs

John Campbell knows the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority has been contentious. So, he stressed off the top that should it be adopted by the harness racing industry it likely won’t happen for at least two years — and likely longer.

Still, the CEO of the Hambletonian Society said work is underway now at the Society to prepare for HISA if it comes to the standardbred industry.

“I think as long as HISA continues and is not struck down, I think eventually the other breeds – quarter horse and standardbreds will be incorporated under HISA,” Campbell said. “If you look at the track and safety regs for the thoroughbreds now, it just does not make any sense… It’s strictly for thoroughbreds and it would not have any place in standardbred racing.

“So, what the Society is doing, we’ve put together five committees: one of veterinarians, a track, a shoeing, a drivers’ committee and a trainers’ committee. A couple of them have met already and started the dialogue and discussing how to move forward, and what we want to do is to come up with a document that is standardbred-centric that HISA could look at and say, ‘Yes, this would work for standardbreds’ and it would work for our industry moving forward.”

Campbell said it’s all about being prepared if HISA does get adopted in harness racing.

“If it doesn’t come, we’ll have wasted some time, some good people’s time, but that will be it,” he said. “If it does come, then there will be a document that we’ll be able to incorporate into the standardbred industry.

“I want to stress that it’s not a referendum on HISA, these committees, because we have USTA directors on it and we have a number of people who are not in favor of HISA at all, but they realize that we should be prepared should HISA become the regulator and governor of standardbred racing.

Campbell said the committees were first formed last fall.

One of the most contentious parts of HISA has been the medication rules. Campbell said the Hambletonian Society committees are not looking at HISA’s medication rules at this time. Their focus is on other HISA rules.

“There are two separate documents for the thoroughbreds,” Campbell said. “There’s the track and safety document – that’s the one we’re going to work on from the Society standpoint.

“I don’t think the changes [for standardbreds] will be that dramatic… in the track and safety regs as part of a HISA document. Obviously, breakdowns are the focal point of the track and safety regs for thoroughbreds. It’s not that we don’t have any breakdowns, but our breakdowns are a fraction of what the thoroughbreds are. So, a lot of this is really just incorporating the best policies that racetracks and commissions have in play now and incorporating them into one document.”

At this point, the Hambletonian Society isn’t looking at HISA fees, either.

“That’s not our role at this point,” he said. “I think, obviously, HISA is very expensive, there’s no question about that. However, Lisa Lazarus did allude to looking into alternative funding at the symposium in Arizona this past December and hopefully there will be something that comes out of that because I know it’s going to be a burden with a number of thoroughbred tracks in order to support HISA. So, hopefully they can come up with some funding that will lessen that.”

While it’s important to prepare and get the standardbred rules right should HISA be adopted, Campbell said HISA has made many adjustments as it has been adopted by the thoroughbred industry. So, he doesn’t expect the people that run it to be inflexible.

“If you follow HISA, they are making changes constantly, both to the track and safety regs and the medication part of it,” he said. “So, hopefully, the burden will be lessened and there will be more clarity to the funding by the time they get to us.”

For now, the Hambletonian Society is, “just making sure we get this document done. Time is on our side, as of right now, but, as you know, time runs down pretty quickly. Though, again, I don’t see the standardbreds being under HISA inside of two years and likely closer to three.”