Judge halts horse racing authority enforcement in La., W.Va.

A federal judge said Tuesday a national horse racing authority cannot enforce its rules in Louisiana and West Virginia while a lawsuit challenging the organization is in court.

In granting a preliminary injunction, Western District of Louisiana Judge Terry Doughty said the Horseracing Integrity & Safety Authority likely went beyond its bounds on three rules that went into place July 1. State and racing officials in those jurisdictions sued to prevent the federal authority’s new regulations from going into effect.

HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said the ruling is limited in scope geographically to Louisiana and West Virginia and does not question the organization’s constitutionality or validity.

“Congress enacted HISA to enhance equine and jockey welfare and protect the integrity of this great sport by, for the first time, creating national rules and standards to govern thoroughbred racing,” she said in a statement sent to The Associated Press. “These measures are backed by research and informed by the expertise of independent and industry representatives. The reality is that the majority of racing participants support the authority’s mission to protect those who play by the rules and hold those who fail to do so accountable in order to keep our equine and human athletes safe and the competition fair.”

Doughty said the authority may have overstepped its bounds when it comes to how horses covered by the rules are defined, the ability for investigators to confiscate records from anyone who owns or “performs services on” a covered horse and basing state payments for upkeep partly on race purses.

The attorneys general of Louisiana and West Virginia hailed the injunction as a victory. Louisiana’s Jeff Landry said the regulations are “unclear, inconsistent and violate due process.”

“I am grateful Judge Doughty applied the law and blocked this federal overreach from devastating our state and the thousands of Louisianans in the horse industry here,” Landry said in a statement. “Louisiana has not only regulated horseracing but also built an entire culture around it with the owners, trainers, jockeys, racetracks and patrons. … The process of creating the law and its associated regulations showed a reckless disregard for the thousands of industry participants in Louisiana and a correspondingly reckless disregard for the impact to our state.”

West Virginia’s Patrick Morrisey said he was confident the legal challenge joined by the Louisiana State Racing Commission, Louisiana Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, West Virginia Racing Commission and The Jockeys’ Guild “will likewise have a favorable result.”

The Horseracing Integrity & Safety Act went into law in January 2021, giving a federal authority the ability to regulate the sport across the U.S. Safety regulations started in July, with antidoping rules going into effect at the start of 2023.

Activist Marty Irby criticized the ruling, calling HISA “the sport’s last chance at survival.”

“It’s a shame to see the federal court side with rogue state operators and officials who continue to help keep doping and animal abuse alive in American horse racing,” said Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action. “If these states insist on operating under the status quo, then we will make sure to further highlight every doping incident, death, and scandal in their domains.”

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AP reporter Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed.

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