NTRA Announces Racing Safety Reforms, Independent Monitor

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) officially unveiled a series of equine health and safety reforms Oct. 15 that will be overseen by an independent monitor. During the news conference in New York City, less than two weeks before the Breeders' Cup World Championships in California, the organization announced former four-term Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson will serve as independent counsel for the newly-formed Safety and Integrity Alliance.

The NTRA previously discussed the Safety and Integrity Alliance at the National Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association summer convention in June, and the International Simulcast Conference in early October. On both occasions NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said it is imperative industry stakeholders buy into the plan.

The reforms, which largely stemmed from the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles as she galloped out after the grade I Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May, are:

  • Uniform medication rules for each state;
  • A ban on steroids in racing;
  • Out-of-competition testing for blood-doping agents;
  • Uniform penalties for drug infractions;
  • Mandatory on-track and non-racing injury reporting;
  • Mandatory installation of an inner safety rail at tracks;
  • Mandatory pre- and post-race testing; and
  • Implementation of placement programs for Thoroughbreds that can no longer compete.

The reforms were approved by the NTRA board of directors in September. Roughly 50 racetracks, horsemen's groups, and other organizations have signed on, with more expected. Members must sign the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance Pledge, a printed version of which says the "undersigned affirms his/her commitment personally and as the authorized agent of any association listed below to these articles and the attached list of reforms as a member" of the alliance.

Thompson, former secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and a partner in the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, will lead a team to perform an ongoing review of the alliance and provide quarterly and annual reports on its progress. According to a statement from the NTRA, Thompson's team will "independently 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."

The alliance will serve as a "regulatory framework for an accreditation process," said Keith Chamblin, senior vice president of communications and industry relations for the NTRA. There will be a code of conduct associated with the reforms, and members will be accredited by late next year, according to the plan. The regular updates will include a list of members; thus, those tracks and organizations that don't appear on the list will be known as non-compliant. The NTRA will bear the infrastructure costs of the alliance, but Waldrop has said the industry at large will bear the costs of the reforms.

The NTRA plans to address wagering security as the alliance expands, and also will seek involvement by the Quarter Horse and Standardbred industries.

"Regulation goes across breed lines," Chambin said. "We can't do this overnight or in one year, but we have to set a course."

The NTRA, The Jockey Club, and other groups have been blasted by Congress for being unable to create a central agency for horse racing and police itself efficiently. The idea of the Safety and Integrity Alliance is to serve that purpose but work within the structure in which each state has its own regulations and is beholden to its own legislatures.

"Our industry is taking strong, positive steps to ensure the safety and integrity of our sport," Waldrop in a release that accompanied the announcement. "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. Fortunately, we have the excellent work of many industry organizations to build on, allowing us to focus on implementation, oversight, measurement and transparency. The reforms and the plan for implementation have been conceived by those who have pledged to operate at a higher level of integrity."

(Originally published at BloodHorse.com.)  

About the Author

Tom LaMarra

Tom LaMarra, a native of New Jersey and graduate of Rutgers University, has been news editor at The Blood-Horse since 1998. After graduation he worked at newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania as an editor and reporter with a focus on municipal government and politics. He also worked at Daily Racing Form and Thoroughbred Times before joining The Blood-Horse. LaMarra, who has lived in Lexington since 1994, has won various writing awards and was recognized with the Old Hilltop Award for outstanding coverage of the horse racing industry. He likes to spend some of his spare time handicapping races.

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners