Alliance Assessment - Unfinished Business

By Alex Waldrop, President and CEO of the NTRA 

In the fall of 2008, the NTRA brought together 55 racetracks and every major horsemen’s organization for the purpose of forging a new path for horse racing.  Together, we pledged support for the affirmation that the health and safety of racing’s human and equine athletes and the integrity of the sport are horse racing’s top priorities.

But words are cheap so we dedicated the industry to action by forming the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance.  The stated purpose of the Alliance was and is to implement uniform safety and integrity reforms on a nationwide basis through the adoption of a comprehensive code of standards and to function as a certification/accreditation body for the purpose of recognizing and enforcing compliance with the standards.

As part of that process, we identified the need for an objective observer who would be accountable to the public at-large as an independent monitor of Alliance activities and progress.  The Honorable Tommy G. Thompson, former Governor of Wisconsin and former Secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, and current partner in the major Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld, was selected as the monitor.

This week, Gov. Thompson and his colleagues at Akin Gump issued the first annual assessment of industry progress in achieving the objectives of the Alliance.  Take a look at the report and familiarize yourself with its findings. I think you will find that it is tough but fair and that its message is clear – real progress has been made but more work needs to be done.

The substance of the findings and recommendations are contained on the last eight pages (pages 41-47) of the report.  They based these findings on a review of the Alliance materials including documentation of every accreditation and also on extensive interviews with a wide group of industry stakeholders including tracks, horsemen, retirement/retraining organizations and others, including customers. The work is well documented and intended to improve the process going forward.

The monitor concluded that the Alliance Code of Standards was generally well conceived and received the appropriate industry input.  They asked the important question whether racetrack accreditation is an effective vehicle for industry reform.  Based upon Akin Gump’s extensive experience with the formation of other self regulatory organizations, especially in the healthcare field, they opined that the Alliance process was largely successful and had the potential to achieve considerable results as the process gathers momentum.

The monitor did, however, identify weaknesses in the process that we will address, including insufficient on-going compliance checks and the lack of incentives to persuade non-Alliance racetracks to undergo accreditation. Their recommendations had merit and we are working on the best approaches to these issues.

The monitor noted that more input and action is needed in the area of aftercare/retirement of racehorses (an aftercare subcommittee has already been formed to broaden efforts in this area). The monitor encouraged the annual review and strengthening of requirements for accreditation and in particular recommended that we create a process to allow the public to provide broader input into the Code. We agree that greater public input into the process is vital, and we already are in the process of drafting a strengthened Code for 2010.

There is a lot of information to digest in the report. My one request to you is that you that you spend a few minutes reading the conclusions of the report and give me the benefit of your assessment as well. Thanks.

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