Lisa Lazarus walked around the backstretch at Belmont Park nine days before the final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, selling as much as observing.
The CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority talked with trainers, riders and other horsemen about the sport’s federally mandated new governing body that she has been tabbed to oversee. Lazarus was peppered with questions and complaints about the new rules that are about to become the national standard.
Once she explained what will change — and what won’t — the most common response Lazarus said she got was, “It’s nowhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be.”
One reason for that reaction at the Belmont? New York is among the states that already follow many of the safety regulations that begin July 1, and the anti-doping rules, which go into effect at the start of 2023.
Lazarus said the policies that will become federal law about four weeks after this year’s final Triple Crown race closely resemble what’s already in place in California, Kentucky and New York.
Now that Congress has passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, the rules will be the same across thoroughbred tracks in the U.S.
“The biggest that’s going to change is uniformity,” Lazarus said. “Uniformity, really above and beyond: It’s going to be one set of rules for everyone.”
Unlike other sports, horse racing does not have a long-established national governing body, which would make getting every state and track on the same page. With an eye on cleaning up the sport, HISA is the closest thing to that.
Mark Casse, who is set to saddle Golden Glider in the Belmont Stakes on Saturday three years after winning the race with Sir Winston, said he and other trainers are still learning about what’s coming, but is relieved rules will be standardized across all jurisdictions.
“It’s a guess everywhere,” Casse said. “You’re like, ‘What can we do here? What can we do here?’ We have a lot of the same rules. A lot of the rules are not changing. I’m just hoping that they can be better enforced.”
The seven rules that go into effect in July encompass jockey safety (including a national concussion protocol), the riding crop and how often riders can use it during a race, racetrack accreditation and reporting of training and veterinary records. Everyone in horse racing must register with the new safety agency by the end of this month.
Medication regulations, including a drug-testing policy aimed at getting rid of doping in the aftermath of federal charges brought against 27 people in 2020 for what authorities described as a widespread international scheme to drug horses to make them run faster, take effect Jan. 1. Lazarus said her agency would take an extremely hard stance against banned substances that “should never be in a horse” with transparent processes and strict punishments, and “practical and firm” about therapeutic substances.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that anyone who’s involved in it, or the vast majority, love their horses and care about their horses,” she said. “So, there is genuine and, I believe, principled disagreement over what helps the horse and what doesn’t and what puts a horse at risk.”
Betamethasone, the steroid that can help horses’ joints, which 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for and prompted Bob Baffert’s suspension by Churchill Downs, is considered a therapeutic drug. It is different than the performance-enhancing substances trainers Jason Servis and Jorge Navarro were charged with using.
Casse, who has been among those in the sport calling for stricter regulations, hopes HISA “can have a little better control and identify the bad apples.” A lifetime ban is among the potential punishments.
Lasix, the much-debated anti-bleeding medication that also works as a diuretic to cause horses to urinate and lose 20 to 30 pounds of fluid, which can increase their ability to run faster, will get a close look over the next three years. The new safety agency will start by prohibiting Lasix use on race day while allowing tracks to apply for an exemption.
The three Triple Crown races are in their second year running without Lasix. New York also bans it for 2-year-olds and in all stakes races.
“You almost don’t notice it,” New York Racing Association president and CEO Dave O’Rourke said. “That’s actually the best scenario. You don’t really hear much about it, which I think is great and says something about it.”
NYRA executive Glen Kozak is among those on HISA’s racetrack safety committee. O’Rourke said NYRA has been at the forefront of horse safety issues for a while other than appointing people to specific positions as part of adjustments to the new rules won’t have to change much to get up to code.
“A lot of these best practices — and we haven’t done this alone — now will be adopted across the industry, which we think is great,” O’Rourke said. “It’s great for the sport. It’s great for everyone that participates in the sport, specifically equine athletes and the jockeys.”
Lazarus said success will be judged by the rate of horse fatalities, which has been decreasing, and hopes the authority gains the trust of those in the industry and the general public based on the intense research that went into developing these policies.
“I think you will genuinely see a shift in culture over time because the programs are going to be too robust and the enforcement is going to be robust and it’s going to be national,” she said. “There’ll be a cultural shift once there’s a genuine recognition that doping will not be tolerated in horse racing. It just won’t be.”
Georgia’s Bennett arrested for public intoxication
Former Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett, who led the Bulldogs to their second straight CFP National Championship earlier this month, was arrested on a misdemeanor public intoxication charge in Dallas on Sunday morning.
In a statement to ESPN, a Dallas Police Department spokesperson said officers responded to a report of a man banging on doors in the 1600 block of Tribeca Way at 7:10 a.m. ET on Sunday.
“The preliminary investigation found when officers arrived, they located the man, Stetson Bennett, 25, and determined he was intoxicated,” the police statement read. “Bennett was taken into custody, transported to the City Detention Center and charged with public intoxication.”
Bennett left the detention center Sunday morning, but he could not be reached for comment.
Bennett, who started his college career as a walk-on, was a Heisman Trophy finalist this past season, after leading the Bulldogs to a 15-0 record and SEC championship. He passed for 4,127 yards with 27 touchdowns and seven interceptions, while rushing for another 10 scores.
Bennett was named the offensive MVP in both of Georgia’s victories in the CFP, a 42-41 comeback win against Ohio State in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl and a 65-7 rout of TCU in the CFP National Championship presented by AT&T.
Bennett, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, is considered a potential selection in April’s NFL draft. He recently won the Manning Award, which is given to the top quarterback in the FBS by the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Sources: Ex-Buffs QB Shrout picks Arkansas St.
Shrout visited Arkansas State over the weekend and his commitment looms as a significant win for Butch Jones, who is entering his third season as Arkansas State’s head coach.
Shrout will graduate from Colorado this spring and plans to enroll at Arkansas State in May, according to sources. He has one year of eligibility remaining and potentially a second if he gets a medical redshirt after missing the entire 2021 season with a torn ACL.
Shrout most recently played at Colorado in 2022, where he threw for 1,220 yards, seven touchdowns and eight interceptions and delivered the game-winning touchdown pass against Cal in overtime in Colorado’s lone victory of the season. He started seven games at Colorado and had one start during his three seasons at Tennessee (2018-2020).
Shrout is one of three Buffaloes quarterbacks who have entered the NCAA transfer portal since the school hired Deion Sanders as head coach. Sanders has made it clear that his son, Shedeur, will be the starter next season. He introduced him at his opening news conference by saying, “This is your quarterback.”
According to sources, Shrout was attracted to the potential opportunity at Arkansas State, including playing in offensive coordinator Keith Heckendorf’s West Coast-style offense. Shrout also had some teammates at Tennessee who played for Jones, and sources said the former teammates endorsed Jones both as a person and a coach.
Arkansas State (3-9) ranked No. 118 in total offense last season and No. 85 in scoring offense. The Red Wolves open the 2023 season at Oklahoma on Sept. 2.
Sources: Harbaugh, Broncos meet but no deal
Broncos owner Greg Penner and University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh met last week in Ann Arbor to discuss Denver’s head-coaching position without any deal materializing, league sources told ESPN.
Although Harbaugh two weeks ago announced he was staying at Michigan, Penner did his due diligence and still traveled to Ann Arbor to meet with the coach in person, like he’s done with seven other candidates during the Broncos’ head-coaching search.
The follow-up conversations were part of the process for both Denver — led by Penner with general manager George Paton — and Harbaugh. The face-to-face meeting came after Harbaugh’s initial video interview with Denver, after which he pulled his name out of contention and reaffirmed his commitment to Michigan.
“I love the relationships that I have at Michigan — coaches, staff, families, administration, president Santa Ono and especially the players and their families,” Harbaugh said in his statement Jan. 16. “My heart is at the University of Michigan. I once heard a wise man say, ‘Don’t try to out-happy, happy.’ Go Blue!”
The Broncos moved on as well, continuing their discussions with several other candidates. Denver has interviewed former Saints coach Sean Payton, former Colts and Lions coach Jim Caldwell, former Stanford coach David Shaw, Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans and their own defensive coordinator, Ejiro Evero.
Harbaugh now has met with the Vikings and Broncos in back-to-back years. While one source wondered how many more chances Harbaugh would get, another league source said “The league is likely to be interested in Jim as long as he is successfully coaching. He’s proven at every level including the NFL. That’s a hard resume to match.”
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