NTRA Hopes to Fast-Track Safety Plan

A plan to implement equine health and safety initiatives is being developed.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association hopes to have a long-term implementation plan for uniform equine health and safety measures in place within 30 days.

Almost 70 industry stakeholders met the morning of Sept. 12 in Lexington to discuss reforms and how best to implement them. The NTRA has spearheaded formation of a “strategic plan” that largely draws on recommendations issued in the wake of the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles in this year’s Kentucky Derby (gr. I) Presented by Yum! Brands.

The plan addresses five major issues: medication and drug testing, injury reporting and prevention, safety research, a safer racing environment, and care for retired racehorses. Several reforms, such as regulation of anabolic steroids, are either in place or making their way through the regulatory system in various states.

NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop, when asked after the meeting if new reforms are in the works, said: “It’s a little premature to say what’s new and what’s not. The focus is on uniform implementation. We didn’t just talk about reforms, but how to implement reforms.”

The NTRA very much would like to make public the implementation plan before the Oct. 24-25 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita, Waldrop said. No further meetings of the group are planned, he said, but NTRA officials will meet with various stakeholders to lobby for support.

Association of Racing Commissioners International president Ed Martin called the Sept. 12 meeting “positive.” Martin, whose organization develops model rules and facilitates their implementation, said “anytime you get the industry working together toward a common goal, it’s a good thing.”

Martin, however, again mentioned the ongoing obstacle of funding for racing regulators. Reforms such as regulation of steroids bring added costs as financial support from state government declines.

“There are practical issues regarding state racing commissions that still exist today,” Martin said. “The industry needs to get aggressive and pursue that with state legislators.

Chris McErlean, vice president of racing for Penn National Gaming Inc., and Charlie Hayward, president and CEO of the New York Racing Association, attended the meeting. They had no comment after the meeting, but there was no indication from attendees there is a lack of support for the initiative.

“I would gauge the group as being very receptive to the NTRA’s leadership, highly motivated to reform, and prepared to take on the task ahead,” Waldrop said.

Some stakeholders at the Sept. 12 meeting did “sign on the dotted line,” a phrase Waldrop used in July when he first discussed the equine health and safety initiative. But Waldrop acknowledged the plan needs a “broad-based buy-in” from the industry.

“Eventually, we will ask (all stakeholders) to commit to a group of reforms and the implementation plan,” Waldrop said. “We’re taking a collaborative approach, and we have 30 days to build support.”

The meeting was attended by owners, breeders, racetrack and sale company officials, jockeys, veterinarians, regulators, and members of the NTRA Horseplayers’ Coalition.