By Ray Paulick
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association announced a series of sweeping safety and integrity reforms and the hiring of a former governor and Bush administration official during a press conference in New York this morning.
The reforms, organized under the banner of the newly created NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, touch on a wide range of issues that have been bubbling under the surface for years but came to a head this spring in the wake of the death of the filly Eight Belles in the Kentucky Derby, the revelation that Derby winner Big Brown won while racing legally on anabolic steroids, and a damning Congressional hearing that left industry leaders red-faced and fearful of federal action. The reforms and the creation of the Safety and Integrity Alliance evolved over the last several months from a series of closed-door meetings and a confidential discussion document circulated throughout the industry and published in the Paulick Report in July.
The Alliance, to be funded by the financially challenged NTRA, consists of racetracks, owners, breeders, horsemen, jockeys, auction companies, veterinarians, fans, regulators and breed registries. The NTRA has retained the services of former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who also served as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services for President George W. Bush and made a brief run for the 2008 presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Thompson will be charged with independently monitoring the program and annually providing public reports on the progress the Alliance has made in meeting its goals.
Thompson, incidentally, attended the 2005 Kentucky Derby and later joined a West Point Thoroughbred partnership that owned Flashy Bull, who was unplaced in the 2006 Derby but subsequently won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. According to West Point president Terry Finley, Thompson “loves the racing game” and is in a partnership that currently owns a West Point 2-year-old named Tapit's Brew.
Click here to read the complete text of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and Pledge.
For a list of tracks and racing organizations that have agreed to the pledge, click here.
Following is the NTRA's press release on the formation of the Safety and Integrity Alliance and the hiring of Thompson as an independent monitor.
NTRA FORMS SAFETY AND INTEGRITY ALLIANCE AND ANNOUNCES SWEEPING REFORMS; TABS FORMER WISCONSIN GOVERNOR TOMMY THOMPSON TO PROVIDE OVERSIGHT
National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) President and CEO Alex Waldrop and Thoroughbred racing industry leaders outlined a series of industry-wide safety and integrity reforms at a press conference in New York today. The NTRA also announced the creation of a new Safety and Integrity Alliance, comprised of the largest tracks and horsemen's groups in the U.S. and Canada, which will be responsible for implementing the reforms. The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson, former four-term Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services, will serve as independent counsel for the new NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance. Governor Thompson will conduct an ongoing review and provide an annual independent and public assessment to the Alliance.
The reform initiatives are the broadest and most comprehensive in the sport's history, including:
- uniform medication rules for each racing state
- ban of steroids from racing competition
- out-of-competition testing for blood and gene doping agents and pre-race testing
- uniform penalties for all medication infractions
- mandatory on-track and non-racing injury reporting
- mandatory installation of protective inner safety rail
- mandatory pre- and post-race security
- adoption of a placement program for Thoroughbreds no longer competing
The reforms were approved by the NTRA Board of Directors, representing North America's leading racetracks, owners, breeders and horsemen, at a special Board Meeting in September and communicated via e-mail to fans just prior to the press conference. Waldrop, joined by NTRA Executive Chairman Robert Elliston, Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association Chairman Alan Foreman and Governor Thompson, unveiled an ambitious timetable for implementing reforms, calling on NTRA Alliance member organizations to adopt house rules to enforce the measures until individual states and regulatory agencies can catch up via statute and regulations.
“Our industry is taking strong, positive steps to ensure the safety and integrity of our sport,” said Waldrop. “Despite challenges and significant short-term and long-term costs, there is an unprecedented level of commitment among Thoroughbred racing's leadership to see these measures through.”
Governor Thompson—currently a partner in the Washington, D.C., offices of the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer and Feld—will lead a team that will independently review, monitor and assess the program and provide annual public reports of the industry's progress toward achieving its goals in the area of human and equine health and safety.
“Our first priority is to insure the health and safety of the athletes and horses in the racing industry,” said Thompson. “On its own initiative, the NTRA has taken a great step forward in committing to reforms and the creation of an important new body to oversee implementation of the reforms. I will take my independent oversight role seriously and work to assure transparency in this process.”
The NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance will be a standing organization whose purpose is to implement safety and integrity reforms. The Alliance also will function as a certification/accreditation body for the purpose of recognizing and incentivizing compliance by all stakeholders. Reforms will be undertaken using a phased approach that begins immediately—in some cases, under a House Rules format—and transitions to a broader strategy that relies on licensure requirements, continuing education programs and the state regulatory process.
“The health and safety of all participants in Thoroughbred racing – both human and equine – have always been top priorities at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, and all of our company's racetracks,” said Robert Evans, President and CEO of Churchill Downs, Inc. “We know that the job is never done where safety is concerned. We fully support the NTRA's development of safety and integrity standards and the annual certification of tracks that meet those standards. On the issues of safety and integrity, we believe we must hold ourselves to only the highest standards. Our customers do.”
Virtually every leading racetrack and horsemen's association in North America, representing some one million industry participants, has pledged its support to the Alliance and the reforms. Waldrop indicated that, in the coming weeks, the Alliance will be broadened to include other racing organizations, individuals and fans; and that additional reforms, including wagering integrity issues, will be addressed by the Alliance.
“The horsemen are the people who are ultimately responsible for the day-to-day care and safety of the Thoroughbred,” said Alan Foreman, Chairman of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. “As such, the health and safety of our horses and the integrity of our sport are our highest priorities. We are committed to seeing that these reforms and standards are implemented across the nation.”
The reforms include improvements to medication and testing policies, guidelines for injury reporting and prevention, safety research, providing a safer racing environment, and post-racing care for retired race horses. They are drawn from the recommendations that have emerged over the past several months from The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee and Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, Breeders' Cup Limited, the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association's Graded Stakes Committee and the long-standing work of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium and the Association of Racing Commissioners International, among others.
“Fortunately, we have the excellent work of many industry organizations to build on, allowing us to focus on implementation, oversight, measurement and transparency,” said Waldrop. “The reforms and the plan for implementation have been conceived by those who have pledged to operate at a higher level of integrity.”
The NTRA is a broad-based coalition of horse racing interests consisting of leading thoroughbred racetracks, owners, breeders, trainers and affiliated horse racing associations, charged with increasing the popularity of horse racing and improving economic conditions for industry participants. The NTRA has offices in Lexington, Ky., and New York. NTRA press releases appear on the NTRA web site, NTRA.com.
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