After several racing organizations gathered to announce the formation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition on Tuesday, members of the media – and readers – had questions. We've chosen to reprint a sampling of the questions asked of Coalition members and their answers.
According to a release announcing the Coalition's existence, “the group seeks to create and implement a series of significant safety, medication, operational and integrity guidelines across Thoroughbred racing to ensure the well-being of horses and jockeys and increase transparency and accountability.”
How will the reforms set forth by the Coalition be enacted – house rule or commission rule?
Kevin Flannery, senior vice president for Churchill Downs, Inc.: We will be implementing these reforms in every way possible going forward. Where permissible, house rules will be in place. This really involves a wide swath of reforms. I'll give you an example: at Churchill Downs racetrack, we implemented a reform of two training breaks during the training cycle. We didn't need commission authority to do that. Ten minutes after one of the breaks is reserved for horses that are doing works. So the reforms will run the gamut of things we can do via house rule and things we can work with the regulatory authorities and our other partners. Again, the Coalition is hoping a lot of people will have the same desire as we do to make racing safer. We'll be working with the Jockeys' Guild, we'll be working with the horsemen's organizations in an open dialogue to improve.
How important is it that uniform rules be in place for all the members? If a member of the Coalition doesn't agree with a rule, what happens?
Flannery: This is our first step. The number one thing to do is to identify the issues that we believe will advance our cause. It is good to have people with different opinions in the room. We don't want an echo chamber. We want the brightest people in the industry working together to decide what is best for us as an industry. We're identifying those efforts that we believe should be uniform across the board – for example, moving back the administration of NSAIDs and corticosteroids, we all agree on that. We will identify other medication standards that we agree on as a group and we will push and advocate for those to happen.
What is the Coalition's stance on the Horseracing Integrity Act?
Drew Fleming, president and CEO of Breeders' Cup: Some of us in the Coalition are obviously for the Horseracing Integrity Act, some of us are openly against it. Everything's on the table, including some form of federal legislation. One important point I want to emphasize is the need for immediacy, and we all know that federal legislation can take some time and that's why we're here today, to make immediate, impactful change.
Are there specific penalties to members of the Coalition who are non-compliant with the Coalition's objectives?
Flannery: One particular penalty that we have outlined in our reforms is in regards to bisphosphonates. Any horse that's been treated would be put on the vet's list for a 12-month period. As to specific penalties with coalition members, those are the sorts of things we're working towards right now to decide what issues we need to address, what's our plan, how do we implement the plan, and what those penalties are. Ultimately we have to hold not just ourselves accountable, but everyone in the industry.
Since this is currently a voluntary organization, can you clarify how this differs from the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance?
Bill Thomason, president and CEO of Keeneland: I guess you'd look at me being the chair of the NTRA, it'd be appropriate for me to answer. As we said at the start, there have been some great initiatives that have gone on all around this country that have provided the foundation for initiatives that have happened over the years that our racetracks have implemented and been a part of. This is not eliminating and this is not starting over all that good work that's been done around the country. NTRA has significant initiatives and efforts going on right now to make sure they're helping us provide those important points that are going to help provide the safety of our athletes. We're going to take the good things that are being done by those organizations that are out there and we're going to make sure those are our discussion points. We're going to make sure we're doing everything we can do to consolidate and coordinate those efforts to provide those implementable things that are going to have an immediate impact on what we need to do to earn the trust of the public that's so necessary for all of us right now. The good things that the Alliance has done will provide a foundation for a lot of the things we're going to be working on.
You say this is just the beginning; will there be any kind of board set up?
Flannery: Right now, the voice will be the Coalition as a group. Again, this is the first step. We've identified the reforms we think are important to start with. We've identified the reforms that have been successful in other jurisdictions. We hope down the road that we will hire someone to lead the organization and really to lead and guide the coalition members. Someone whose day-to-day job is to be on the pulse of what is going on around the country from a safety standpoint. But in the interim, all of the coalition members will be at the table making decisions collectively.
One thing we didn't hear addressed today was synthetic tracks. They're statistically safer tracks than dirt; what's the Coalition's stance on that?
Fleming: I'm easy because the Breeders' Cup doesn't have a racetrack. Everything's on the table. This is Day One. We're looking at all sorts of options, including synthetic or other sorts of surfaces. I think one of our initial things we're going to be working on is racetrack surface data. We're going to put in place an emphasis on this.
Mike Rogers, president of The Stronach Group's racing division: We support everything the Coalition is doing now with Dr. (Mick) Peterson investigating track surfaces. With regard to synthetic surfaces, we're absolutely open to looking at that option. If that's the decision this coalition makes or that's the decision of the industry, we're not opposed to that.
Thomason: Having had a lot of experience with synthetics as well, you know one of the things we mentioned that's really important is the coordination of our efforts for the future. Everybody here has already provided significant support to the initiatives and support that's going on at the University of Kentucky right now. We have invested significant additional resources in the efforts that are going on at UK under Mick's direction. They're creating a new position there that will be solely committed to racetrack safety. That's a huge commitment by the University of Kentucky that's being funded by the people you're looking at. As a part of that research is going to encompass all surfaces. We're going to be talking about dirt, we're going to be looking at synthetic surfaces and also, knowing how turf racing is gaining in popularity here, we're going to be looking at how we enhance and provide for safe turf surfaces.
How long has the formation of this coalition been brewing?
Fleming: We've been working on this for some time because we see the need to make racing safer. Some of these reforms have been implemented at various tracks. Others will quickly be implemented. There's a lot of work to do. It's a complex challenge that won't be solved overnight but we're excited to have the best and brightest in our business to really make a change in racing.
Will this coalition eventually lead to a universal governing body, like a league commission?
Flannery: The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, starting out, is really focused on safety measures—safety, operational, organizational. That is our focus, on safety. We don't want to speculate on what happens down the road. What we do want to focus on is having the best and brightest minds in our industry sharing in a dialogue to see what can move our sport.
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