NTRA to Seek Commitments on Reform Plan

Support for a proposed national strategic plan for equine welfare and safety and other reforms will be sought Sept. 12 when the National Thoroughbred Racing Association brings together industry representatives for discussion and—it hopes—commitment to action.

The NTRA has taken on the role of facilitator as the industry identifies deficiencies in policies related to equine welfare and safety. Though regulation of anabolic steroids and toe grabs is on the fast track in various states, the NTRA has identified other areas for reform.

NTRA president and chief executive officer Alex Waldrop in early August said the “focus is on implementation, not on the reforms themselves. The industry is good at identifying problems, but not implementing solutions.”

The horseracing industry was called out by a congressional subcommittee in June for not having an organization with the power to mandate reforms. The NTRA can’t make demands, so it instead is using its role as a “convening authority” to develop consensus and strongly urge reforms.

Industry integrity reforms that have been discussed include equine medication rules, drug-testing and laboratory standards, racing surfaces, an injury reporting system, restrictions for 2-year-old racing, jockey safety, wagering security, and enforcement mechanisms, according to a memorandum circulated by the NTRA in early July. The threat of federal intervention—dreaded by many but supported by some in the industry—has lit a fire under industry organizations, as did the breakdown and death of the filly Eight Belles as she galloped out after the May 3 Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

“We continue to refine (the topics) and are doing so on a daily basis,” Waldrop said in early August.

The NTRA, at the Sept. 12 meeting in Lexington, hopes to “confirm commitments and signatures from organizations and individuals,” according to an Aug. 14 letter circulated by the NTRA. At the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association summer convention in July, Waldrop first discussed the strategic plan and indicated industry representatives would be asked to “sign on the dotted line.”

More could be known Aug. 17 after The Jockey Club Round Table conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. The agenda is heavy on updates on equine welfare and safety issues. The Jockey Club and Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association formed safety committees earlier this year.

November elections figure to stall any movement on legislation calling for federal regulation of horse racing via the Interstate Horseracing Act of 1978. Officials, however, said it could become an issue in 2009.