Following the Oct. 15 unveiling of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance, four of the organization’s principle figures were on hand to further explain their roles and the details of the equine health and safety reform plan, which will be implemented gradually over the next two years.
Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the NTRA, said it was “amazingly easy” to garner the support of some 50 racetracks, horsemen’s groups, and other individuals, who have already signed on to be accredited by the alliance, which is a voluntary organization.
“I sense a will to change in this industry like I have never seen before,” Waldrop said. “The sheer number of people we’ve included speaks volumes about how strongly this industry feels about the need to change.
“Over the last several months, there have been some great recommendations and a lot of good ideas,” Waldrop continued. “What we believed was missing was a good plan for reform—a good plan for implementation and change, and that’s what the alliance is.”
One of the biggest questions surrounding the alliance was how the organization would get off the ground financially. Waldrop admitted that while it had been a tough year on the economy, the NTRA figured it couldn’t afford not to spend the necessary dollars to initially fund the alliance.
While the NTRA will bear the infrastructure costs of the alliance, the industry at large will bear the costs of the reforms. Waldrop said the alliance had not yet identified all the fees involved with running the organization, nor what the cost would be for individual members. Some organizations will pay more than others, though Waldrop said tracks would not be permitted to garner the funds via a takeout increase.
The initial requirements for certification in the alliance have also not yet been determined. Once the requirements are established, however, members must comply with all the rules if they want to remain accredited by the alliance.
Waldrop said there would be rewards for organizations that go above and beyond the requirements. The alliance’s first priorities, he said, include establishing uniform medications, creating an injury reporting system, and conducting more research on track surface safety.
“If tracks don’t follow the rules, then they’re out of the alliance,” said Waldrop. “The market will determine that it’s valuable to be accredited.”
Waldrop said the alliance’s reform initiatives will become a reality via a certification process to ensure members comply on a national basis. The alliance also has an advocacy program to try and establish uniform laws across the country. While the reforms will start as house rules at member tracks, the long-term goal of the alliance is to create standardized state regulations.
“I’m very pleased with the (initial) response—this industry is primed and ready, the fans are demanding it, and last but not least, we owe it to our human and equine athletes to do this for them,” said Waldrop.
The Alliance will be monitored and evaluated by former four-term Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who will serve as independent counsel for the newly-formed organization. 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, pointed out that he is also a former Thoroughbred owner and campaigned 2006 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) contender Flashy Bull in the West Point Thoroughbreds partnership.
“My job is to listen to all the individuals in the alliance, listen to other individuals, and then do a report card on how the alliance is measuring up,” said Thompson, adding that he plans to issue quarterly progress reports, as well as a public annual report.
“I was absolutely impressed by the topics that Alex and the alliance brought forward,” he added of the list of initiatives the organization presented, the first two of which were uniform medication rules for each state and a ban on steroids in racing.
“The truth of the matter is, this is just the beginning,” said Thompson. “We’re going to measure how well the (NTRA) and the alliance is able to measure up and accomplish what they’ve set out to do. I feel very confident that they’re going to do this, because every person I’ve met is dedicated and passionate about it. If we do our job, I think this is going to be a giant step forward. I’m confident that this is a great beginning and it’s going to be a very successful endeavor.”
Bob Elliston, president of Turfway Park and executive chairman of the NTRA, said he wasn’t surprised by the overwhelming response of groups and individuals wanting to be a part of the alliance.
“The fans are speaking like they’ve never spoken before about their insistence on these kinds of initiatives, and ultimately that will affect their pocket books and where they go with those dollars,” said Elliston. “Anybody who has suffered an ultimate loss on their racing surface is not going to stand by idly and not be participating in something this comprehensive when this much leadership is being brought to the table.”
Alan Foreman, chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, said the horsemen were among the first groups to step forward and commit to the formation of the Alliance.
“The horsemen know there are significant concerns about the integrity of our sport, and about the safety and welfare of the animals,” he said. “They understand it, they’re prepared to respond to these challenges and take a leadership role. We see this as a very positive effort for the industry.”