Louisville, Ky. - Racing officials say it seems only appropriate that Louisville's Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is the nation's first racetrack to win accreditation by NTRA.
Louisville, Ky. — Racing officials say it seems only appropriate that Louisville's Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, is the the nation's first racetrack to win accreditation by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's (NTRA) Safety & Integrity Alliance.
Especially so considering that it was on that track that the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles occurred before a world television audience in last year's Kentucky Derby.
Winning accreditation means the premier racing facility meets a strict set of safety and medication standards that the NTRA group established as part of a year-long series of steps aimed at reforming the Thoroughbred racing industry and polishing its image.
Even before the horse's breakdown last year, the NTRA was moving in that direction, but the Eight Belles incident added a sense of urgency, officials say. The NTRA created the alliance after a Congressional inquiry last summer into horse-racing safety, medication and governance issues.
Representatives of the alliance granted Churchhill Downs a two-year safety certification in mid-April after inspecting the facilities and interviewing track veterinarians, owners, trainers, jockeys, stewards, regulators and track executives. Churchill Downs previously submitted a 48-page written application for accreditation.
The on-site review was led by Jennifer Durenberger, DVM; racing official Richard J. Lewis and Mike Ziegler, executive director of the NTRA alliance. Tommy G. Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services who serves as the alliance's independent monitor, also observed the review.
Accreditation demonstrates that a track meets a number of standards, including systematic reporting of equine injuries, pre- and post-race veterinary examinations, post-mortem examinations, health and safety of jockeys, proper use of riding crops and shoes, safety research, legal use of medications and ongoing training.
Objectives include reducing the incidence of equine injuries and breakdowns and convincing the public and Congress that the sport is doing all it can to upgrade and standardize regulations, including the care of racehorses after their careers end.
The overall aim is for the 55-plus tracks in 38 states that allow horse racing to comply with the uniform standards, at least 20 of them by the end of this year. "None of us wants another Eight Belles," Thompson said.
Besides Keeneland, Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course and New York's Belmont Park, home of the other two Triple Crown races, are expected to undergo the review process for accreditation before those races take place this season.
One of the procedures the alliance wants most to implement is standardized reporting of injuries.
"We didn't know where horses were injured, when they were injured or under what circumstances. Now we're going to have that data, and we'll be able to make smarter choices," said NTRA President Alex Waldrop.
The alliance has limited ability to enforce the uniform rules, but Thompson says peer pressure will create a competitive environment toward implementing safety and medication guidelines.
The standards were developed from a body of work compiled by veterinarians, racing organizations and scientists. New ones may be adopted in the future.
About two months ago, the American Association of Equine Practitioners threw its support behind industry efforts to improve safety by issuing a white paper containing veterinary guidelines for horse racing.
The AAEP's guidelines, developed by a task force of 35 private, racetrack and regulatory veterinarians and specialists, include many of the same ones adopted by the NTRA alliance, including uniform rules for medication usage and testing and veterinary examinations.
Members of the NTRA safety alliance include 50-plus racetracks, all national horsemen's organizations, veterinarians, owners, breeders, jockeys and others.