12/08/2009 1:00AM

Monitor offers suggestions to safety panel

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TUCSON, Ariz. - The Safety and Integrity Alliance did a good job getting racetracks to comply with safety standards during its first nine months of existence, but it needs to compile improved standards and better communicate its efforts to racing fans, the monitor of the program, Tommy Thompson, said on Tuesday at the University of Arizona's Symposium on Racing and Gaming here.

Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin who is now a partner in the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, said the alliance's inspection program got off to a good start by developing a code of standards and conducting reviews of 15 racetracks since April of this year. Those inspections frequently resulted in racetracks having to change their practices in order to gain accreditation, Thompson said.

However, the alliance also needs to make sure racing fans know about the safety practices adopted by the tracks and allow the fans to make recommendations, Thompson said. Also, he said, the alliance needs to strengthen its standards in several areas, including track maintenance and safety equipment. In the next 12 months, the alliance should also focus on developing a new code that recognizes the best practices in the industry, Thompson said.

"We have a great opportunity to take the best of each track and compile that into a list of standards," Thompson said.

Planning for the alliance began in 2008 following the high-profile death of the filly Eight Belles shortly after she finished second in the Kentucky Derby. Late in 2008, the NTRA announced details of the program and said that Thompson had been selected to conduct periodic audits of the alliance's work.

The alliance has focused on conducting inspections at the sport's most high-profile tracks in order to address the scrutiny of groups opposed to racing or some its practices. The tracks that have received accreditation so far include Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Turfway Park in Kentucky; Hollywood Park, Santa Anita, and Del Mar in California; Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course in New York; Calder Race Course in Florida; Arlington Park in Illinois; Delaware Park in Delaware; and Monmouth Park in New Jersey.