Safety Alliance Participation Falling Short

The number of racetracks accredited for safety was called disappointing.

When it is released in early January 2011, the second report from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance independent monitor may have this message: Not good enough.

The alliance, which began accrediting racetracks in 2009, said its goal was to have 30 facilities fully accredited by the end of 2010. With less a month to go, the figure stands at 19, with another track on the way.

During a Dec. 8 presentation at the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing and Gaming in Tucson, the alliance provided an update, which included a video message from former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the independent monitor. Thompson issued the first annual report a year ago.

“I’m disappointed with the actions taken this year, and hope we do better in 2011,” Thompson said, noting the accreditation goal won’t be met. He offered no other details on the upcoming report.

So far this year only three tracks have been accredited: Canterbury Park, Golden Gate Fields, and Sunland Park Racetrack & Casino. Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing was inspected the week of Dec. 6 with accreditation pending.

Last year, 16 tracks were accredited. Alliance executive director Mike Ziegler, on hand in Tucson, said Thompson’s message speaks for itself.

“I believe the message is loud and clear: We need to get more tracks accredited,” Ziegler said.

To that end, the alliance said Dec. 8 it will offer a “co-op pricing program” whereby accredited tracks will receive a credit against next-year NTRA membership dues for any alliance accreditation fee less inspection expenses. Future accreditation fees will be tiered based on purses offered for NTRA-member and non-member tracks, officials said.

Cost has been a concern of some racetracks, but there are other reasons for their non-action. Pre-race veterinarian inspections of all horses are required for accreditation, and not all tracks offer them. Also, tracks are reluctant to undergo inspections for fear safety inadequacies will be exposed; expenses related to upgrades factor in the mix.

Interestingly, of the 19 accredited tracks only five have racetrack gaming in an industry with about 15 such facilities that offer Thoroughbred racing. No tracks in Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, or West Virginia are accredited; major winter racing facilities such as Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas aren’t either.

Steven Koch, vice president for Thoroughbred racing at Woodbine in Canada, said track operator Woodbine Entertainment Group believes it is “imperative” the industry support alliance efforts. He said being accredited offers opportunities for advocacy regarding the public and its perception of horse racing, which took serious hits in 2008.

Woodbine was credited for having 13 “best practices” in the area of safety, he said.

“It’s a reinforced opportunity for self-review,” Koch said of accreditation, which must be undertaken every two years. “Accreditation is earned, not given.”

Tom Metzen Sr., active in horsemen’s groups in Arizona and Minnesota, said the program already has had benefits for Canterbury Park. He also suggested horse owners should apply some pressure on tracks to be accredited.

“I’ve been in the business 50 years and have spent a lot of money on horses,” Metzen said. “I like to run them at safe racetracks.”

Mike Campbell of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association said he will suggest the organization’s board at a meeting Dec. 13 “insist racetracks fall into compliance.” The Illinois THA represents horsemen at Arlington Park, which is accredited, and at Hawthorne Race Course, which is not.

“If the racetracks don’t do it, the horsemen’s groups should,” Campbell said.

The 2011 code of standards is not yet available, Ziegler said. There could be some new parameters regarding jockey safety in light of recent discussions.