Churchill Downs is expected to become the nation's first major racetrack to win accreditation by the NTRA.
-- Just in time for next month's Kentucky Derby, Louisville's Churchill Downs is expected to become the nation's first major racetrack to win accreditation by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's (NTRA) Safety & Integrity Alliance.
Representatives of the alliance inspected the facilities this week and interviewed track veterinarians, owners, trainers, jockeys, stewards, regulators and track executives. Churchill Downs previously submitted a 48-page written application for accreditation.
The NTRA created the alliance after a Congressional inquiry last summer into horse-racing safety, medication and governance issues following the death of the filly Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.
Heading the alliance inspection team that visited Churchill Downs and was to visit Lexington's Keeneland Race Course later this week are Ronald Jensen, DVM, Frank Lamb and Mike Ziegler, executive director of the alliance. Tommy G. Thompson, a former Wisconsin governor and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, is the alliance's independent monitor.
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. "None of us wants another Eight Belles," Thompson said.
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.
Alliance leaders hope to have most major tracks accredited and in compliance with all standards within one year. 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 include many of the same ones adopted by the NTRA alliance, including uniform rules for medication usage and testing and veterinary examinations. An AAEP task force of 35 private racetrack veterinarians, regulatory veterinarians and veterinary specialists, headed by Scott Palmer, DVM, of Clarksburg, N.J., developed the white paper over several months.
Members of the NTRA safety alliance include 50-plus racetracks, all national horsemen's organizations, veterinarians, owners, breeders, jockeys and others.
The alliance received a $50,000 contribution this week from Pfizer Animal Health, the first pharmaceutical firm to help support its goals.