Continuing with the theme of “What is the role of the NTRA?” with an emphasis on “the horse side” of the business,” this week’s topic is safety and integrity.
The year 2008 presented horse racing with some of its greatest challenges to date. Eight Belles’ catastrophic injury before a world-wide television audience in the Kentucky Derby brought horse safety into sharp focus for fans and the media. Similarly, the knowledge that some of our biggest equine stars were competing for the Triple Crown with the benefit of anabolic steroids sent shock waves through the fan base. It was clear that action was needed, so the NTRA stepped in and provided a plan to institute change through the formation of the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance.
A total of 55 racetracks and virtually every major horsemen’s association signed a pledge stating that, “The health and safety of our human and equine athletes and the integrity of our sport are horse racing’s top priorities.” Soon thereafter, the NTRA built consensus around a comprehensive set of mandatory standards for safety and integrity in horse racing known as the Alliance Code of Standards. The Alliance began accrediting tracks found to be in compliance with the Alliance Code of Standards in early 2009. To date, some 16 tracks have been fully accredited with up to 20 more tracks expected to seek accreditation in 2010.
Most recently, the NTRA Board of Directors approved an updated 2010 Safety & Integrity Alliance Code of Standards. This document outlines the standards by which tracks will be accredited by the Alliance through the remainder of 2010.
So what does it mean to be accredited? Basically, it means a track has met the standards set forth in the Alliance Code in each of the following areas:
- Equine Injury Reporting and Prevention
- Safety Equipment and a Safer Racing Environment
- Health and Safety Research Funding
- Equine Medication and Testing
- Jockey Health and Welfare
- Aftercare of Retired Racehorses
- Wagering Security
Here is a partial list of specific items that accredited tracks must be doing:
- Participating in The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database;
- Conducting pre-race and post race examinations on all horses that race;
- Performing post-mortem exams on deceased horses;
- Maintaining a current veterinarian’s list of injured horses;
- Requiring certified safety equipment, including cushioned crops, padded starting gates, properly equipped and manned equine ambulances, and safety helmets and vests;
- Training employees to assure a safe and secure racing environment;
- Working with regulators to adopt uniform drug and medication rules and penalties;
- Establishing a secure wagering environment through the establishment of industry-wide protocols and procedures; and
- Facilitating the transition of all horses to safe, secure environments after their racing careers are over.
Virtually every Code standard impacts the way in which racetracks and horsemen conduct their racing operations. Change is never easy or simple and certainly there are challenges to full implementation of the Code of Standards at every track and in every jurisdiction. But, on the whole, industry participants are fully embracing the reforms championed by the Alliance. How can you, as horseplayers and fans, assist us with our goal to achieve universal compliance? Support those tracks and horsemen that support the Alliance. Nothing will motivate and reward positive change more quickly than robust attendance and increased handle. Two years ago, we vowed to reform and sought to measure our progress through deeds, not words. Two years later, it is your behavior—primarily with the dollars you wager—that can have the most positive impact on our efforts going forward.
Finally, I note that recently the Horseplayers Association of North American (HANA) named its top tracks for handicappers. Both of the top two tracks – Keeneland and Churchill Downs – are fully accredited. However, three other tracks in their top five—Oaklawn Park, Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs—are non-accredited tracks. Hopefully, with the 2010 Code now including wagering security, HANA will use its influence to push non-accredited tracks to seek accreditation. Safety and integrity are too critical to our future and the only way to be sure that tracks are complying with the industry-wide standards outlined by the Code is accreditation.
What aspects of safety and integrity are most important to you?