02/25/2009 12:00AM

Accreditation program taking shape


The National Thoroughbred Racing Association distributed a list of compliance criteria for its new health and safety accreditation program to racetracks on Wednesday and said it plans to formally launch the program in late March.

The criteria include rules governing injury reporting, veterinary examinations, post-mortem examinations, care of retired racehorses, jockey health and safety, whip use, horse shoeing, participation in research on safety issues and racing surfaces, and the use of anabolic steroids and alkalizing agents. Racetracks will be allowed to review and offer comment on the rules before they are finalized, said Mike Ziegler, the head of the accreditation program.

Ziegler said that the NTRA did not want to publish specifics on the rules while the racetrack review was under way. However, as an example, Ziegler said that the rule regarding care of retired racehorses would require racetracks "to form a relationship with an aftercare organization that complies with standards set by the American Association of Equine Practitioners and to contribute money to the organization's cause."

The rules will be made public after the review is completed, Ziegler said.

After the rules are approved, the NTRA will begin the process of accrediting tracks, Ziegler said. Racetracks will need to submit answers to a questionnaire regarding their compliance with the rules, and ontrack inspectors will certify that the track is in compliance. Some of the rules, such as the regulation of anabolic steroids and a ban on toe grabs, have already been passed by many state racing commissions.

Participation in the program is voluntary. NTRA officials have said that the certification of tracks will provide racing fans with guidance about a track's commitment to safety issues.

The NTRA announced the formation of the program in October, principally in response to widespread criticism and scrutiny of horse racing after the death of Eight Belles in last year's Kentucky Derby.

The three tracks that host Triple Crown races - Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course, and Belmont Park - will receive priority for accreditation, Ziegler said. The three Triple Crown races draw the most viewers of any horse racing event during the year, and public scrutiny of racing's practices is expected to be intense on the one-year anniversary of Eight Belles's death.