Poll: Progress in Racing, But Long Way to Go

Sports fans and core racing fans were polled on issues impacted the industry.

A survey of sports fans and “core” horse racing fans indicates impressions have improved following a rough 2008, but nowhere near enough for industry officials to proclaim a turnaround.

The survey, conducted by SocialSphere Strategies on behalf of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, centered on safety and integrity in Thoroughbred racing. A little more than a year ago, the sport was dealing with the fallout from the breakdown of Eight Belles, reports that Big Brown had raced on anabolic steroids—which were legal at the time—and the results of a Congressional inquiry into racing.

Mike Ziegler, executive director of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, touched on the survey results during the Aug. 23 Jockey Club Round Table. Polling showed 6.3 million core racing fans and 44 million sports fans are aware of the alliance, which was officially launched last fall, he said.

The results also showed nine million sports fans who in 2008 wanted Thoroughbred racing banned have changed their opinions.

“Due to our words and actions, today a solid majority of core fans believe the environment for racing is safer than one year ago,” Ziegler said. “Despite these positive shifts in public opinion, we still face serious challenges on the integrity front.”

SocialSphere conducted 1,909 interviews from July 16-31 this year. The company said interviews were conducted with 1,200 sports fans, 608 core racing fans, and 101 owners, breeders, and horsemen.

SocialSphere said the sampling was “two to three times the typical polls” conducted for the media or presidential campaigns.

In follow-up comments, NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop said the focus on implementing the alliance paid off, especially in light of the fact that “doing what we needed to do has always eluded us. We’re now putting money in the bank and building a reservoir of credibility.”

Still, Waldrop said: “We’ve turned this around, but we have a long way to go.”

NTRA senior vice president of communications Keith Chamblin said the survey showed there’s “no question” racing’s customer base has strong opinions on equine medication, animal welfare, and wagering security. The medication issue is tricky given the huge difference between accepted therapeutic medications and performance-enhancing drugs.

According to the research, “insiders” believe therapeutic substances are a bigger issue than banned drugs.

Waldrop for some time has said the alliance eventually will tackle wagering security, and 2010 may be the year. He said racetracks could do “nine or 10 things” to move the process along quickly.

The alliance still expects 20-25 tracks to be accredited by the end of this year. The NTRA is hoping to see some peer pressure build as more tracks request accreditation, which includes a written report and on-site inspection.

“A year from now, it will interesting to see those tracks that are accredited and those that aren’t,” Waldrop said.