All I hear these days from the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HBPA) is how bad the federal Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) is for Thoroughbred horse racing. The National HBPA says there is no need for uniform track safety and no need for nationwide medication rules.
Is the National HBPA living on Mars?
The National HBPA sanctimoniously proclaims it doesn't want Washington meddling in our business. It claims that HISA is unconstitutional and that the government cannot give a private organization control over the affairs of other private entities. And the National HBPA is spending no-telling how much money in court seeking to prove its point and destroy nationwide anti-doping and safety standards.
So, what is going on here? Why is this group, which falsely presents itself as somehow representing all horsemen, outrageously asserting that track safety and doping don't need a national solution?
This raises troubling questions. What really is the National HBPA? Who runs it? Why in the world would it go to such extremes to sabotage better controls on safety and drugs?
Have the leaders of the National HBPA suddenly (and conveniently) developed memory loss? Don't they remember the media firestorm over horse fatalities at Santa Anita Park that threatened to shut down California racing?
Have they forgotten the federal indictments and convictions of Jason Servis, Jorge Navarro, and 25 others for years of illicit drug doping right under the noses of state regulators?
All this made me wonder where the National HBPA gets its money and power. So, I did a little research. Here is what I learned.
The National HBPA is an umbrella organization that is funded by state HBPAs. Now here's the interesting part: State HBPAs get their money, and their clout, as a result of federal legislation passed 45 years ago—the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. This law allowed horse racing to engage in nationwide betting via telephonic and electronic means, something that was not allowed for any other sport.
However, interstate wagering can't happen unless a racetrack gets the approval of the horsemen's group representing the majority of horsemen there. It is known as the "horsemen's veto" and must be incorporated into a catch-all agreement "regarding the conduct of horse racing" at the track. If you think that takes in a lot of territory, you're right. It gives the state HBPAs enormous leverage.
We all know that approximately 90% of Thoroughbred racing's handle comes from off-track wagering. Holding the key that unlocks this giant revenue stream is a big deal. The key holders, HBPAs, wield their veto right to control all aspects of racing.
The local HBPAs heavily influence how much of all track revenue streams (on-track, off-track sponsorships—not just what the veto applies to) go into purses; how all this money is handled; details regarding stalls and other track facilities; vendor relationships; backside expenditures, even details concerning non-racing events at the track.
Moreover, these agreements require the track to pay money directly to the HBPAs for unspecified "services to horsemen." And, as we know, these amounts are not small.
Some of the concessions horsemen's groups get from tracks under the threat of exercising the veto are beneficial. But what gets under my skin is the two-faced nature of the National HBPA and some state HBPAs—all private organizations given power by federal law to control a wide range of important issues in horse racing, including the allocation of racing's entire revenue stream—and then gets paid handsomely for doing it!
Even worse, the National HBPA and the state HBPAs answer to no one.
All the while, this unregulated, private group, authorized by federal law, beats its chest and protests that the federal government has no business empowering another private group—HISA, which does answer to a higher authority, the Federal Trade Commission—to oversee just two aspects of racing: clean competition and safety.
Apparently, the "H" in HBPA really stands for "hypocrite."
Anthony Manganaro, CEO of Siena Farm, Paris, Ky.