HISA, Thoroughly Said: 5 Questions for USADA’s Travis Tygart and Dr. Tessa Muir

Thoroughly said ... The newly-created Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, known as HISA, will have the backing of Travis Tygart and Dr. Tessa Muir. Find out what they had to say, as our turfwriter J.N. Campbell asked them 5 probing questions below about the process and the product. (Logo courtesy of USADA)
Thoroughly said ... The newly-created Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, known as HISA, will have the backing of Travis Tygart and Dr. Tessa Muir. Find out what they had to say, as our turfwriter J.N. Campbell asked them 5 probing questions below about the process and the product. (Logo courtesy of USADA)

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Thoroughbred racing in the United States, a sport holding a rich past, yet at times a troubled history, especially when it comes to the regulation of everything from medication to racetrack safety, is ready to enter a new epoch. Late last year, led by Representatives from both Kentucky and New York, the Congress passed, and then-President Trump signed, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, creating the “Authority” (HISA). In a seemingly miraculous reversal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), along with Churchill Downs, abandoned their former blocking position, and joined industry leaders who sought to put an end to the mishmash of rules and regulations that ended at each state line.

Enter Travis Tygart … CEO of the United States Anti-Doping Agency (known as USADA), who helms an expansive non-profit organization that is tasked with keeping competition in sport safe and fair. It’s a mission that has now spanned over 2 decades. A former attorney, Tygart graduated with a law degree from Southern Methodist University. Since coming on board in the wake of MLB’s BALCO cases, a fellow who is used to acronyms, has overseen numerous complex operations from Olympic testing to the Lance Armstrong investigation. As an impartial entity based in Colorado Springs, under Tygart’s leadership, USADA exudes the principles of honesty, accountability, and timely justice.

Joining him, as the newly appointed Director of Equine Science at USADA, is Dr. Tessa Muir. She brings a wealth of experience that includes not only a strong background in veterinary medicine and anti-doping, but also work with the British Horseracing Authority, the British Army, and Racing Victoria. An avid horseperson, her commitment to scientific research and the welfare of equine athletes in pursuit of clean sport, makes her a true asset to USADA. After attaining a Bachelor of Veterinary Science from the University of Melbourne, and a Post-Graduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice from the University of Liverpool, she is currently pursuing an LLM in Sports Law at De Montfort University, in an effort at even more versatility.

During the past 6 months, with a HISA committee system in place, drafting a rulebook has entered the first of several editing phases. The dynamic duo of Tygart and Dr. Muir, along with a bevy of technical advisers that crisscross several sports, are looking for feedback from the pubic as to the direction that is being taken. At stake is a centralization program that seeks to redefine everything from medication listings to testing programs at laboratories. After this series of revisions run their course, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will issue their final regulations, and HISA will take flight next summer.

As a turfwriter, I was interested in getting their specific take on the process, the product rendered, and the future of a sport that has seen its fair share of crises. Lagging well-behind the rest of the racing world when it comes to innovation and oversight, an American overhaul is due. In their own words, here are Tygart and Dr. Muir’s responses … answers to 5 questions … on the record—HISA thoroughly said.

Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, testifies in front of Congress back in 2017 ... In over 20 years working for the organization, he now brings his experience to tackle Thoroughbred racing. (Photo courtesy of USADA)
Travis Tygart, CEO of USADA, testifies in front of Congress back in 2017 ... In over 20 years working for the organization, he now brings his experience to tackle Thoroughbred racing. (Photo courtesy of USADA)

J.N. Campbell: Travis and Tessa, thanks much for agreeing to chat today. I want to begin by unpacking what you have been about this past year, especially when it comes to the rolling out of HISA? Travis, as CEO of USADA, what did you learn through the process, especially considering the history of anti-doping and medication control within the equine industry?

Travis Tygart: Thank you for taking the time to discuss these critical issues. Throughout this entire process, which we have been engaged in for over a year now, we have spoken with numerous stakeholders in the industry to understand the ins and outs of equine anti-doping and medication control. What we have learned is that anti-doping in horseracing and anti-doping in human competition is not dissimilar. When we began working with the Olympics and Paralympics and, more recently, the UFC, we saw a lack of uniformity with significant resistance to change. While some see opportunity to implement broad, positive policies, others would rather continue down a destructive path to protect the status quo.

After our productive conversations with those who are receptive to our mission to protect clean sport, we now better understand what the industry requires. For example, we drew a distinction between primary and secondary substances, with primary substances prohibited at all times and secondary substances prohibited on race day. Secondary substances can include therapeutic medications, which have wide potential misuse in the sport. We determined that these secondary substances can be allowable outside of race day, provided they are used responsibly and prescribed by a veterinarian when applicable.

 

J.N. Campbell: The "Blue Ribbon" Committees (Anti-Doping Medication/Racetrack Safety) that were assembled seemed like they had a nice mix of expertise, both within and outside the industry. Tessa, if I could direct this to you, can you give readers an example of how that melded particularly well on a specific issue?

Dr. Tessa Muir: While we were not involved in the discussions with the Safety Committee, we had lengthy discussions with the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Committee on the protocol. Both committees likely agree with the importance and the presence of a “mix of expertise,” as you put it. Certainly, there was some mild tension in the conversations, but that is natural and healthy when considering these vital rules. In the end, we are satisfied with the results. One example of the positive results from the committees we’ve seen is defining an overage as a medication control violation, and not an anti-doping rule one. Though we agree on the outcome, there is a blurred line as to whether those should be considered anti-doping rules violations.

Dr. Tessa Muir joins USADA as the Director of Equine Science. Her background in veterinary science includes work with the British Horse Racing Authority, among other organizations. As a horseperson, her love of equine athletes matches her strong base of knowledge. (Photo courtesy of USADA)
Dr. Tessa Muir joins USADA as the Director of Equine Science. Her background in veterinary science includes work with the British Horse Racing Authority, among other organizations. As a horseperson, her love of equine athletes matches her strong base of knowledge. (Photo courtesy of USADA)

J.N. Campbell: Even though the "rulemaking" phase is still ongoing, I am still very interested in the "feedback" stage that we are currently in (runs until December 6). It appears incredibly democratic ... anyone can "log in" and offer their own "notes" like a law professor. Tessa, do you have a sense of how those are going to be incorporated? It seems to me to be a rather daunting proposition ...

Dr. Tessa Muir: The Authority has the say over incorporation of both the industry groups’ feedback (which has already occurred) and the public feedback. Once they determine the proposals, they send those to the HISA board, and if approved, they are then sent to the FTC for final approval.

 

J.N. Campbell: I just returned from the Breeders' Cup, and much was written about the poor choices made by the California Horse Racing Board right before the Juvenile Turf ... It is safe to say, that once again bettors were marginalized by the outcome. Speak to me as a horseplayer ... Travis, why should this loyal cadre get behind the HISA, and the revolution that it promises for the game?

Travis Tygart: As we all have seen, the betting landscape is changing rapidly across the country. We are seeing a significant nationwide expansion at the moment and horseracing will want to remain at the pinnacle of the betting industry. They do this by ensuring they provide a fair and legitimate product to the fans, both those who bet and those who do not. Bettors will not place their money in untrustworthy hands, and the best way to build and maintain that trust is to ensure cheaters do not prosper, and one way to do that is via anti-doping procedures.

We saw this firsthand with the 2021 Breeders’ Cup, which reported a record World Championships handle this year (up 4.7% from the previous record set in 2019) after Lasix was banned and medication regulations were tightened. Despite all the dire predictions of how that would ruin the sport, the opposite proved to be the case. We hope that will remain the case going forward. In the end, USADA exists not to punish rulebreakers but to serve athletes. Whether the athlete has two legs or four, each has the right to clean sport, and we will stand with those athletes to champion that right, in addition to inspiring true and healthy sport and promoting the integrity of sport.

 

J.N. Campbell: The final version of HISA, and all of its facets, ultimately rests with the Federal Trade Commission ... after such labors with the drafts and the editing, as the Director of Equine Science for USADA … Tessa, how do you approach that process and square the eventual outcome? Isn't it difficult to know what HISA will look like in the end? Please explain ... 

Dr. Tessa Muir: You are right in that the final decision on the construction of the rules is out of our hands and in the hands of the FTC. We will do our best to collect and process the feedback from the public, with the support of the Authority, and send as much supplemental material as we feel is needed to bolster our proposal.

We want the gold standard in anti-doping for all sports, including horse racing, and we believe the FTC will support us in that mission. But in the end, if they disagree and provide rules that we cannot stand behind, we may ultimately not be running the program. The rules will still exist; it just will not be USADA governing them. Whatever the outcome, USADA is ready to provide its support and expertise to make HISA successful. At the end of the day, as long as the FTC’s decision meets the gold standard, we will be prepared to move forward quickly with a robust anti-doping and medication control program.

We know that many are frustrated with the timing and perceived bureaucracy of it all, and we share those concerns and wish this could be done tomorrow. But the truth is these things take time and USADA, the Authority and the FTC wants to get it right. We encourage as much public feedback as possible, so that the FTC will receive and accept the gold standard, and horseracing can finally move into the 21st century of clean and fair competition.

 

J.N. Campbell: I appreciate you both visiting with me! I wish you the best with your endeavors, as the American racing landscape undergoes this transformation …

Travis Tygart/Dr. Tessa Muir: Thank you very much, and glad to be with you!

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