Thursday, October 16, 2008
Finally, NTRA Puts Racing on Proactive Track
As everyone knows, this game has been studied to death. In the Thoroughbred industry, if you want to acknowledge a problem, you form a committee to study it, make recommendations, then wait for nothing to happen.
Call me crazy, but I’m hopeful this time. Further, I have reason to believe that the newly created Safety and Integrity Alliance, a cooperative of racetracks and other industry organizations, in time, can and will work. The operative phrase is “in time.”
On Wednesday the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) with racing industry leaders outlined a series of safety and integrity reforms. Through this newly created alliance, America’s largest racetracks and horsemen’s groups in the U.S. and Canada are charged with the responsibility of implementing reforms under the watchful eye of an independent monitor.
New Yorkers, don’t jump to conclusions here. This is different from the Getnick & Getnick scenario whereby a so-called independent monitor would oversee how the New York Racing Association would correct its problems in advance of the franchise renewal process.
In that case NYRA paid the firm handsomely and no one was surprised when it found that the association successfully addressed their problems and hence were citizens in good standing. NYRA subsequently reached an agreement with the state to keep its franchise another 25 years in return for handing the deeds to its three racetracks over to New York State.
Tommy G. Thompson, the former four-term Governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services during the Bush Administration has been retained by the NTRA as an independent counsel for the Alliance through the auspices of Thompson‘s high powered Washington D.C. law firm. Governor Thompson will conduct an ongoing review and provide an independent and public assessment to the Alliance.
“I’m passionate about horse racing. Fans think of it as the Sport of Kings and they want the horses and jockeys to be safe, and that the sport is above suspicion and ethical,” said Thompson in a national teleconference.
“There was no quid pro quo, no pre-condition. I call it as I see it,” said Thompson, who “took on the issue of food inspections much to the consternation of the White House. I will work to insure transparency in this process.” A racing fan, Thompson attended the Kentucky Derby three years ago and later became part of the West Point Thoroughbreds syndicate group that owned the accomplished Flashy Bull.
According to an NTRA release, the reform initiatives are the broadest and most comprehensive in the sport’s history. To wit: uniform medication rules for each racing state; a ban of anabolic 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 a protective inner safety rail; mandatory pre- and post-race security and the adoption of a placement program for Thoroughbreds no longer competing, an organized step toward the ultimate elimination of horse slaughter.
The proposed 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 NTRA-registered fans prior to the start of a New York City press conference. NTRA President and CEO Alex Waldrop was joined by Executive Chairman Robert Elliston, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Chairman Alan Foreman, and Governor Thompson.
Participation in the Safety and Integrity Alliance is voluntary and its ultimate success will be determined by market factors. “Our job is to make and implement strategy based on good science,” said Waldrop, describing how the process would work. “It’s a huge agenda that will take a couple of years [to implement fully]. It will measure performance against stated goals and objectives. The market place will determine whether tracks complied to the spirit of the alliance by rewarding good behavior and supporting those tracks.”
It sounds good on paper. In order to implement reforms as soon as possible, the NTRA will call on member organizations to adopt house rules as a first step to the ultimate goal; the adoption of uniform state regulations via statute. The Alliance will function as a certification/accreditation body for the purpose of recognizing and incentivizing compliance by all stakeholders.
“If you don’t comply with the rules, you lose your certification,“ Waldrop said.
Every leading racetrack and horsemen’s association in North America representing an estimated one million industry participants has pledged to support the Alliance and its reforms. Waldrop indicated the Alliance soon will broaden to include other racing organizations, individuals and fans. He said there is no plan to increase parimutuel takeout to fund the project--“a step in the wrong direction”--and that in no way is the Alliance advocating for any type of [synthetic] surface.
Alan Foreman, Chairman of the national Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said “the health and safety of our horses and the integrity of our sport are our highest priorities. We know there are significant concerns. This is a first step forward. We are committed to seeing that these reforms and standards are implemented across the nation."
All Alliance members will be made to sign an affirmation of the following Articles:
1. The health and safety of our human and equine athletes and the integrity of our sport are our highest priorities.
2. NTRA Alliance Members shall participate in, mutually support and/or endorse the uniform application of each of the reforms and related initiatives set forth on the document attached to this pledge (the “Reforms”) and the issuance by NTRA of annual public reports to monitor the progress of achieving Alliance objectives.
3. The NTRA Alliance shall develop an objective certification/accreditation methodology to recognize Members who support and comply with the Reforms.
4. NTRA Alliance Members shall petition regulators in their racing jurisdictions to adopt the regulatory reforms set forth in the document attached.
5. NTRA Alliance Members shall begin implementation of the reforms immediately unless otherwise provided.
6. The NTRA Alliance shall provide regular, public communications with horseracing fans, regulators, legislators and industry stakeholders to maintain transparency.
7. In the future, the NTRA Alliance shall consider additional Reforms, including expansion of its focus from health and safety for equine and human athletes in horseracing to other more broadly defined initiatives (e.g., wagering security) directed to the improvement of the sport’s integrity and transparency.
Can these seven commandments help lead the industry to the promised land? Maybe, maybe not. But it's a good first step.