RCI president Ed Martin

RCI president Ed Martin

Anne M. Eberhardt

Officials: Compact Comes at Critical Point

The proposed National Racing Compact is considered critical by some in the industry.

Uniform regulation through the proposed National Racing Compact got a major push from industry participants April 13 amid “serious” funding deficiencies for regulatory agencies and word at least one member of Congress is exploring creation of a commission to oversee some aspects of Thoroughbred racing.

The NRC has been endorsed by the Association of Racing Commissioners International, which is holding its annual meeting in Lexington. The full RCI board of directors is expected to address the interstate racing compact again during its meeting April 14.

RCI president Ed Martin, in comments made April 13, said state regulators, usually the ones blasted for inaction, support the NRC, which requires legislative action in six states to launch.

“We have long-standing problems, many of which have been discussed here,” Martin said. “The under-funding of state regulatory commissions is a serious problem this industry faces. The compact is a long-term option for the industry that needs to be advanced now. You have this opportunity because of the dire finances of state budgets.”

Various groups, including the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and Jockey Club, have been preparing a business plan for the compact. Other groups have offered input, but haven’t necessarily endorsed it.

Martin mentioned the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. The National HBPA recently issued a release stating it hasn’t endorsed the compact but continues to review the concept.

“The compact is running into opposition from people in the industry,” Martin said, noting there are questions about how the NRC would be funded. “But it’s the politics of this industry that always seems to kill us. You’ll hear things like, ‘I don’t like it because you thought of it.’ ”

Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and her staff have met with various horse industry representatives to collect information on what is being called the “United States Thoroughbred Health and Safety Commission,” officials said. Landrieu has sponsored federal legislation to ban horse slaughter for human consumption.

Peggy Hendershot, senior vice president of legislative affairs for the NTRA, said there is a “draft concept, parts of which we have seen.” Some of the issues on the table are equine medication, 2-year-old racing, and limits on the number of horses bred, all of which were part of the discussion in 2008 when Congress held a hearing on Thoroughbred racing in the wake of high-profile racehorse injuries.

“(Landrieu’s) staff has been meeting with a large number of industry groups to discuss some issues,” Hendershot said. “The industry has had the opportunity to state how we address these problems. At this point, it’s just a matter of information-gathering and fact-finding.”

Tom Ludt, co-general manager of Vinery in Central Kentucky and member of the Breeders’ Cup board of directors and Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said the industry needs to pay attention to what’s happening on the state and federal levels. He and others pushed for action on the NRC, which wouldn’t serve as a “national racing commission” but would facilitate adoption of standards from state to state.

Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm in Central Kentucky and a member of The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee, said many safety-related issues could be addressed via the NRC, which she said should be taken seriously.

“Hopefully, you’ll have the ability to leave you’re egos at the door,” Hancock said. “The way things work now, it takes too long to introduce anything new.”

Trainer John Ward, also a member of the KHRC, said progress has been made in the past six or seven years in regard to adoption of model rules for things like medication. Still, he said the NRC could be a “hard sell” for some in the racing industry.

“We’ve learned to play in the sandbox together,” Ward said, “but we’ve seen that the positive and the negative can co-exist. Individual jurisdictions are going to give up a little bit (to get the compact passed).”

The National Licensing Compact, which has been in place for years, would become part of the NRC. Ward and others said the licensing process for Thoroughbred owners must be simplified.