By Rory Carroll
LOS ANGELES, Aug 6 (Reuters) – Horse racing in the United States cannot survive without a major overhaul of the rules governing the use of drugs and improvements in racetrack safety, the sport’s top official told Reuters.
A series of high-profile doping scandals and horse deaths have rocked the industry and led to a new federal law designed to replace the state-by-state patchwork of regulations with a national standard.
Lisa Lazarus, who became CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) in February, is charged with leading the phased implementation of the rules and said cracking down on bad actors is both necessary and achievable.
“I wouldn’t have taken on this challenge unless I firmly believed that we can get it done,” Lazarus, the closest thing the sport has ever had to a commissioner, said in a recent interview.
“What I need to be able to do is make sure that the love and care that the vast majority of racing participants have for their horses is replicated and protected, and that those bad actors are eliminated from our sport or we get them to reform their ways.”
Proponents of the status quo have argued that more stringent regulations will be a “death knell” for the industry, driving away owners and bettors.
But Lazarus pointed to California, whose pioneering horse welfare initiatives HISA is now advancing, and the iconic Del Mar racetrack, which opened to a record handle last month.
“All of those Armageddon prophecies never came to be and I feel like that’s kind of what’s happening now with HISA,” Lazarus said.
“People who are afraid of the change are saying owners are going to leave the game and that it is going to kill horse racing,” she said.
Lazarus said she is trying to protect horse racing’s fiscal health “for generations to come” and that means prioritizing its stars, the horses.
“It would be really hard for someone to say that if horse racing doesn’t reform that it can continue the way it is,” she said.
“I don’t think it can.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll in Los Angeles; Editing by Kim Coghill)
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