Supreme Court Upholds Horse Racing and Safety Act Amid Rising Debate

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In an anticipated moment of legal pinnacle on Monday, America’s apex court, the Supreme Court, resolved not to entertain a legal challenge to the newly implemented Horse Racing and Safety Act (HRSA). The move simply ensures the continuance and sustenance of the federal law, which spearheaded the launch of national medication and anti-doping rules. The law, passed in 2020, has been subsequently bolstered by Congress in the span of two years, affirming its intent and rigor.

The call for attention comes with a rattling backdrop. In a chilling incident, a 6-year-old Thoroughbred was euthanized on the race track of New York’s Belmont Park back in June 2023, stirring up a storm of debate.

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The challengers to the federal law constituted an interesting group, featuring Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia, and individual racetracks from other states. Their focus was to downrightly dismiss an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, that upheld the constitutionality of the law. The bone of contention was the amount of power delegated to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA). The latter was birthed by HRSA to oversee and administer the rules.

The responsibilities of HISA are no small feat. The private entity is tasked with consolidating and handling the outcomes of racehorse drug testing. Moreover, it holds the reins of ensuring uniform penalties for violations, establishing standard practice in a field previously characterized by a hodgepodge of regulations in the 38 horse-racing-friendly states.

Post-ruling, Charles Scheeler, the board chair of HISA, lauded the impact of the uniform standards of HISA. In an official statement, he asserted the tangible, significant effects they have had on the health and welfare of horses, invoking the impressive statistic of a 38% decline in equine fatalities in the first quarter of 2024 alone.

Thoroughly smoothening the landscape hasn’t been entirely successful. HISA began overseeing racetrack safety on July 1, 2022, resulting in a marginal decrease in the rate of horse racing deaths at HISA-controlled tracks: from 1.25 per 1,000 starts in 2022 to 1.23 per 1,000 starts in 2023. However, not all Thoroughbred tracks have fallen under HISA’s command. Several state racing commissions, including those in Texas, Louisiana, and West Virginia, continue to resist compliance. In these non-compliant states and elsewhere, horse racing deaths register a higher figure, standing at 1.63 per 1,000 starts in 2023.

On another front, two more legal battles stand undecided on the federal court stage, awaiting judgment in the 5th and 8th circuits respectively.

“We still could hear any day from the 5th Circuit on whether HISA remains unconstitutional after the congressional tweak. The oral argument last October was favorable for us,” remarked Eric Hamelback, CEO of the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. Based in Kentucky, this lobbying group fervently represents the interests of Thoroughbred racehorse owners.

Meanwhile, on the legislative front, an initiative to dismantle HISA made its way to the House of Representatives in September. The fate of this proposed piece of legislation remains, as of yet, undetermined.

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Melinda Cochrane is a poet, teacher and fiction author. She is also the editor and publisher of The Inspired Heart, a collection of international writers. Melinda also runs a publishing company, Melinda Cochrane International books for aspiring writers, based out Montreal, Quebec. Her publication credits include: The art of poetic inquiry, (Backalong Books), a novella, Desperate Freedom, (Brian Wrixon Books Canada), and 2 collections of poetry; The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat, (Backalong Books), and She’s an Island Poet, Desperate Freedom was on the bestseller's list for one week, and The Man Who Stole Father’s Boat is one of hope and encouragement for all those living in the social welfare system. She’s been published in online magazines such as, (regular writer for) ‘Life as a Human’, and Shannon Grissom’s magazine.