Appeals on two horse racing-related lawsuits held Tuesday at Fifth Circuit

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NEW ORLEANS – A controversial law that would change the way the sport of horse racing operates in the United States is being challenged by a pair of lawsuits whose appeal arguments were heard here Tuesday morning.

A three-judge panel for the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on a pair of cases related to the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, one of which questions the constitutionality of the law and the other questions how rules were created for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, which was formed by the Act.

The National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association has filed the first suit in conjunction with other state HBPAs, while officials and governing bodies in Louisiana and West Virginia are leading the second suit.

HISA, signed into law in late 2020, took effect July 1, though it has been challenged in multiple jurisdictions. Judge Terry Doughty of United States District Court in the Western District of Louisiana granted a temporary injunction July 26 to prevent the enforcement of HISA’s rules.

The consensus of those horsemen in attendance at a news conference hosted by Louisiana attorney general Jeff Landry prior to the oral arguments is that Louisiana officials and horsemen know what is best for Louisiana racing.

“If HISA goes into effect, it’s going to completely crush Louisiana racing,” said trainer Ron Faucheux, who has won the last two training titles at Fair Grounds. “We don’t need federal oversight, more red tape and more bureaucracy.

“HISA harms horses more than it protects them. The ones that are making the rules have never been around race horses. They’re making rules to accumulate fines and build their bankroll.”

Owner and breeder Michele Rodriguez, whose son is also a trainer, has more than 60 horses across Louisiana.

“I think our racing commission is doing a very good job of implementing some of the same rules and regulations, but on a basis that would be proper for Louisiana, not for the rest of the country,” Rodriguez said.

According to the horsemen, part of how Louisiana is different is its climate, which necessitates different rules. For instance, while HISA bans the diuretic Lasix on the day of a race, many consider it a necessary medication to assist in a horse’s breathing, reduce fluid levels and prevents exercise-induced pulmonary hemorraghing.

Owner/breeder Evelyn Benoit – who raced and now breeds Star Guitar, the winningest Louisiana-bred horse of all-time – sees the bigger picture of the agribusiness that is horse racing in Louisiana, which generates an economic impact of $1 billion annually, according to a study commissioned by the state HBPA.

“People really do not understand what the horse industry is all about,” she said. “Veterinarians, blacksmiths, farm land, equipment, truck lines, the people on the backside. We have so many people that we employ here in Louisiana.”

The Authority created by HISA has two major tasks – racetrack safety, of which some rules took effect July 1, and drug testing, which is scheduled to go into effect in January.

If HISA prevails, it will be a game changer for horse racing in more ways than one.

“I have put millions of dollars into this industry,” Benoit said, “and we want it to stay alive and well.”

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Lenny Vangilder

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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…

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