08/13/2014 10:24AM

Fornatale: Wagner gives horseplayers a voice on NTRA board

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Judy Wagner is making history – again. In 2001, Wagner became the first woman to win the National Handicapping Championship. Last week, it was announced that Wagner will become the first horseplayer to be appointed to a broad-based Thoroughbred racing organization when she joined the board of directors at the NTRA.

Wagner credits Mike Mayo, chairman of the NTRA Players’ Committee, with making her appointment a reality. “For a long time, he’s felt strongly that the players are the ones – with our wagering dollars – who fuel the entire industry,” Wagner said. “Mike’s said on many occasions, and I agree with him, that the players should have a seat at the table.”

Back in June, Mayo reached out to Wagner and told her to expect a phone call. NTRA senior vice president Keith Chamblin contacted Wagner and asked her if she’d be willing to serve.

Wagner has been impressed with the direction the NTRA has taken recently. “Earlier this year, the NTRA and DRF did a great job allowing players an easy avenue to sign on to the petition about changing the tax law,” she said. “The Treasury should be looking at the whole bet, not just the single denomination that hits for big money. And it’s a step forward that they’ve agreed to look at this. This could be a terrific win for the horseplayer.”

Overall, she sees the NHC Tour membership increase as a good sign as well. “Our industry needs to really target and attract a more diverse crowd,” she said. “It can only be a good thing that NHC membership has increased so dramatically this year. Since the first of the year, there have been two prize-pool increases announced already, and there’s even a chance we’ll see another. Hopefully, this is one step of many where the NTRA will go about recognizing the player in a more visible way.”

Wagner, a member of the Louisiana Racing Commission since 2007, has a few issues at the forefront of her mind as she prepares to join the board – equine safety chief among them. “I am in favor of stricter rules, tightening up medication rules, more vet inspections,” she said. “Being a regulator in another part of my life, I have seen how important it is for tracks to support the safety of the horses. It’s better for the equine athletes, and it’s better for the human athletes who ride them.”

She is also a strong supporter of across-the-board takeout reductions and an increase in wagering integrity. “I want horseplayers to feel that they are being treated fairly in all ways,” Wagner said. “I’m not an expert on the technology side, but I know it’s not a good thing for the game when all this money gets bet late and a horse goes from 3-1 in the gate to 3-2 on the backside. That’s a cause of concern for the players. Whatever needs to be done to restore a sense of fairness is important to me.”

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Joining the board wasn’t an easy decision for Wagner – she and her husband, 2009 NHC Tour champ Bryan Wagner, are both ineligible to play in the NHC while she is serving.

“That part was a bummer,” she said. “Bryan and I love NHC. We work to get there every year, and when we do, it’s like a reunion of old friends. It’s a great feeling to walk into a room and know right away that ‘horse racing is spoken here.’ ”

But Wagner put her personal interests aside in favor of the game she loves. “I knew I had something to offer the board, and I felt a sense of responsibility,” she said. “With my background, I felt like I had a good chance of getting appointed. And I’m the biggest cheerleader for the player, and I always will be.”