As a young boy, I spent summers mucking out stalls, painting fences, and helping out on my great-uncle’s farm. Early in the mornings, his grandson and I could hear him tapping on the door, telling us to wake up and get moving in Cajun French. “Levez, levez!” We’d jump out of bed and ride down to the track to watch the jockeys breeze the horses as the sun was coming up.
Those are memories I fear the next generation might never experience as we battle the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA)–legislation slipped into the COVID relief package and passed by Congress in the dark of night to federalize the horseracing industry and give complete regulatory power to a private corporation without consent of the individual states or even input from the horsemen themselves.
Horse racing in Louisiana has its roots in Cajun and Creole culture, where the infamous bush tracks of the 1950s produced some of the finest jockeys in the world. Soon, Acadiana became known as a place where you could start out riding barefoot and work your way up to winning the Kentucky Derby with an entire community to not only cheer you on but also finance the first major racetrack in the region–Evangeline Downs (where the announcer Gene Griffin would say “Ils Sont Partis!”, which means “And they’re off!”).
Fueled by this rough and tumble past, Louisiana horse racing has effectively policed itself for over 200 years, evolving over time to meet modern challenges while maintaining its unique identity. It’s an industry built with our own sweat and blood, supported by a tight-knit group of horsemen, racing fans, and family businesses. As in other states, we know how our horses handle our unique climate, our tracks, and our footing. We know the history of our bloodlines, the traditions of our sport, and the nature of this industry far better than anyone else.
That hard-won knowledge has created an entire culture within Louisiana, one that has grown from an economic impact of $460 million in 1979 to $1.5 billion today. As Attorney General, it’s my job to protect this industry, its culture, and its people. That’s why I have been fighting against HISA from the very beginning, even as political players pressured my office to not get involved. But like most Cajuns, when I stand for what’s right, I don’t back down.
At the core of HISA is this: a handful of wealthy players wish to control the sport through a one-size-fits-all, pay-to-play scheme that will decimate the inclusive culture of horse racing. And while we can all agree that we want integrity and safety in the sport, perhaps it must also be stated that we should never let a few bad actors define the whole. Yet under the guise of “integrity,” the federal government is using the excuse of bad actors to take away the freedoms and liberties of all horsemen while completely ignoring the unique cultures of each individual state and the people who have created it.
As a result, if HISA is successfully enacted, many of those who have been racing horses in their states for generations will be run out of business by ridiculously expensive fees, fines, and other barriers to entry. This will affect breeders, jockeys, farriers, veterinarians, tracks, and supply shops. Entire cultures will be decimated in support of unclear, inconsistent, and oftentimes dangerous new rules designed by political and corporate elites who can’t even decide what kind of shoes a horse should wear.
For Louisiana and her people, my Solicitor General Liz Murrill and I took on this battle. We stood up for horsemen when it was neither popular nor politically convenient because we knew that it was the right thing to do. We believe that horse racing should be enjoyed by all–not just an exclusive elite. And our fight is now leading to the U.S. Supreme Court, where a disagreement between two federal courts must be decided. That is why it is absolutely vital everyone stand up now for true integrity in horse racing, for state sovereignty, and for the culture of this sport.
I almost feel like my great-uncle is knocking on your door, asking you all to wake up and fight with us. Place the power back into the hands of the people, where it belongs. I cannot guarantee you a win; but I do believe that the greatest advantage we have are our numbers. So, if the attorney general of your state has joined our coalition in the fight against HISA, please thank them; but if your attorney general is not yet involved, please encourage them to file an amicus brief in support of our cause. And if you run an organization affected by HISA, please join us at the U.S. Supreme Court to voice your opposition to this gross federal overreach.
Now more than ever, your voices must be heard. If we are to protect horse racing, we must take action. And so I say, “levez, levez!” Let’s go.
—Jeff Landry, Louisiana Attorney General