Thoroughbred Racing Fan Association, Inc.



Can Racing "Get To Yes"?



This week the media reported on the argument between Thoroughbred horsemen and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. The CEOs of NTRA (Thomas Rooney) and the Ohio HPBA (Dave Basler) articulated their positions. The presentations, although penned separately sounded like an ongoing debate between opposing side—a “war of words.” It is clear that the two see the role of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) differently. This debate has been carried by others representing each side since Congressmen Paul Tonko (NY) and Andy Barr (KY) proposed the law. It was modified numerous times to satisfy the concerns of Congress. It passed and President Trump signed it into law in 2020.

Conflict is important and helpful in reaching agreement both in the worlds of politics and business. Why it continues troubles many. Surely, any legislation can be amended when Congress determines that it is flawed and there are enough votes to amend. Surfacing these flaws and offering reasonable alternatives must be focused on people who have the authority to change. Public position-taking by opposing sides produces a “entertaining” debate but is unlikely to accomplish the change that both sides want. Why.

Mr. Rooney’s and Mr. Basler’s are debating in front of their own audiences—Rooney to the racing industry and Basler to horsemen. Interesting reading, but unlikely to find a negotiated settlement. Given both men’s careers they know this but enjoy “preaching to the choir.” There must be a better way. There is.

Over 40 years ago two people associated with Harvard University, Robert Fisher and William Ury, offered it in a book they wrote: “Getting To Yes—Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In”. Over the years it has become the gold-standard for negotiations. Key to the book is the difference between negotiating for positions or interests. The language used by both men suggest that they are focused on their own positions. This may be useful in debate that strives to win which also creates losing. With respect to the HISA law this has been the nature of the discussion for years. You read little about their interests and what they hope will be the best outcome for both sides. They are selling their positions.

Let us look at what “Getting to Yes” may advise Rooney and Basler. First, it might suggest that if they continue with this approach neither side will reach a satisfactory solution. Rather they will accept a compromised solution to which neither really like. If invited, Fisher and Ury may offer the following guidance.

1.       Separate the people from the problem. HISA, Congress, or the industry should not be the focus of the conflict. Talk about the issues. Do not focus criticism on people.

2.       Focus on the interests, not positions. Their respective papers were mostly about their side’s position for saving racing. What are the interests that they feel are not being addressed adequately by HISA? Is it improvement of racing for ALL stakeholders? For sure!

3.       Generate a variety of possible solutions, before deciding what to do. This requires each to openly discuss ways that work to improve HISA without adding value or criticism to any of them. This approach respects each other’s point of view.

4.       Insist on results based on some objective standards. When they evaluate various solutions, they do so without emotions but based on agreed upon criteria.


Using this approach is not easy. It takes practice. But it will bring all parties to the table for open and honest discussions. It takes time to work the issues, create tentative solutions and evaluate. The agreement must be worked on slowly carefully including all ideas and interest. Appling these four steps will help. With trust established “Getting To Yes” is possible. Racing will be on a continuously improving path.