Opinions vary over HISA's impact on partnership investment

Opinions vary over HISA's impact on partnership investment
Photo: Wendy Wooley/Eclipse Sportswire

Terry Finley, president of West Point Thoroughbreds, believes the creation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) already is profoundly impacting potential investors. Leaders of some other partnerships are less optimistic it will be a difference-maker.

Finley credits HISA for spending power that enabled him to join other powerful entities in lavishing more than $14 million on 31 yearlings at the major summer sales. “A big part of the support I got from current partners and brand new partners was based on the Authority,” he said. “They are giving us the benefit of the doubt because they know we are finally in position to have an effective strategy to deal with integrity and safety issues in our game.”

Finley established West Point Thoroughbreds in 1991. The graduate of the United States Military Academy has never been more excited about racing’s future as he is now. “If we execute and if the Authority is going to be done the way I truly believe it is going to be done,” he said, “I think people will look at this as the most important transformation in the history of Thoroughbred racing in America.”

Legislation that created HISA to bring a central authority to a fragmented industry was passed late last year. In an effort to gain the confidence of a public that has grown skeptical, lawmakers mandated an association with the United States Anti-Doping Agency.

Additional credibility comes from Charles Scheeler’s election as chairman of the nine-member Board of Directors. Scheeler is a former federal prosecutor who served as lead counsel to former Senator George Mitchell when Congress launched an investigation into performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. The resulting Mitchell Report uncovered steroid use by some of the game’s most prominent players and helped restore lost luster to the national pastime.

Scheeler and others will work closely with two standing committees, one dedicated to Racetrack Safety and the other to Anti-doping and Medication Control. HISA’S official start date is July 1, 2022.

Unlikely Finley, Donegal Racing’s Jerry Crawford will take some convincing as to its usefulness when it comes to selling shares in racehorses. “The only impact it’s had so far is people have been asking, ‘Who is going to bear the brunt of the cost of this?’ I’ve had that question several times,” Crawford said. “I haven’t had a single partner say they felt better about horse racing because of it.”

Aron Wellman, president of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, agreed with Crawford. “At this point, nobody has come through Eclipse’s doors specifically mentioning HISA,” he said.

Gary Fenton, managing partner of Little Red Feather Racing, noted that aftercare, horse safety and medication concerns are always high on the list of priorities of those who buy into partnerships. As for HISA and the hope it represents, he said, “HISA is still so far in the weeds that most of our partners don’t even know what it is yet.”

Fenton added: “I’m keeping a very open and positive mind that HISA is going to come in and do what it is supposed to do.”

While Wellman is taking a wait-and-see approach, he thinks the oversight that many have longed for could prompt some people who have thought about taking the ownership plunge to leave the edge of the pool.

“The effectiveness of the program is going to lie in their willingness to truly investigate and expose bad actors and penalize them accordingly. Unless we do that, it’s going to matter not,” he said of HISA. “If we do it, then I think we will start to see a significant uptick in potential participation.”

The ever-upbeat Finley, however, noted that West Point’s spending total was almost three times greater than its biggest previous high. He insisted he has been able to use HISA to overcome skepticism about a sport in which the legitimacy of this year’s Kentucky Derby winner remains in question.

“For the longest time, the lack of a true, effective and standardized system was one of the things that I knew caused people not to take the jump into the business, whether it be on the betting side or the racing side,” Finley said. “I had a front-row seat to that for 30 years.”

No matter how HISA fares, Crawford might have said it best. He emphasized the importance of results in determining which partnerships have staying power in that uber-competitive environment.

“In the partnership business,” Crawford said, “upticks come from winning important races.”

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