Alliance Report: Progress But Much More to Do

The first report on the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance was released Dec. 8.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance received a positive review from its independent monitor Dec. 8 but was also told it has a lot of work to do in terms of educating the public and getting racetracks to buy into the alliance accreditation process.

The biggest accomplishment, perhaps, is the fact the alliance is intact and moving forward into its second year when other industry initiatives have fallen by the wayside quickly.

“I think the fact the program started last April and has 12 or 13 tracks accredited is a major accomplishment,” NTRA board member Satish Sanan said. “In this industry, to get an initiative started and have half the success is very difficult. If (the alliance) had more resources, I think it could be a lot more successful.”

The NTRA board of directors met Dec. 8 in Tucson, Ariz., and voted to continue funding the alliance. The board, as expected, approved a 2010 budget of $10 million that’s 25% less than this year’s spending plan.

The year-end alliance report was presented during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming by Tommy Thompson, the alliance’s independent monitor and former governor of Wisconsin and secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Thompson prefaced his report by saying he’s not an advocate for horse racing.

“It’s not my job to make racing look good,” he said.

Overall, the alliance got good marks in terms of facilitating improvements, but “safety and integrity issues remain,” according to the report. Issues most cited in 35 interviews and in public comments were racetrack surfaces and maintenance; over-medication of horses; soundness of horses; a need for a cohesive industry program for aftercare of racehorses; and jockey-related equipment.

“Racing fans need to buy into the alliance,” Thompson said. “You should focus your deliberations in these areas.”

With 13 tracks accredited and two pending, Thompson called the process “largely successful.” But he asked how the alliance plans to encourage other tracks to apply. In all, there were 55 signatories when the alliance was created; in 2010, another 20 tracks have been identified for accreditation.

Gary Thompson, no relation to Tommy Thompson, handled much of the alliance project for the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld. He said the key is to get a “critical mass” of tracks on board.

“We received anecdotal evidence in the interview process that tracks are concerned about their ability to make it through in terms of issues that require major financial commitments,” Thompson said. “The alliance needs to convene a committee to study ways to ensure there is widespread participation.”

NTRA president Alex Waldrop said the alliance hopes to meet with industry groups such as the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association and state racing commissions to find ways to encourage participation. It was suggested that graded-stakes status be tied to alliance accreditation.

“Those conversations do need to take place,” Waldrop said. “We could look at a variety of rights and privileges that may be withheld (at non-accredited tracks). This is a building year. It’s a process. We couldn’t start with sticks. We started with carrots.”

Alliance executive director Mike Ziegler said it’s possible close to 40 tracks could be accredited by the end of 2010. If that’s the case, best practices from those tracks could be adopted by others.

The report also recommended a financing mechanism for the alliance. The report’s authors said they have “serious concerns that more resources are needed in the coming years,” and that an “upfront investment needs to be make by all stakeholders in Thoroughbred racing to the alliance.”