10/14/2008 11:00PM

NTRA to create standards for its member tracks


The National Thoroughbred Racing Association plans to create a code of conduct for its member tracks for a certification program that will be monitored by former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the association announced on Wednesday.

The certification program, which NTRA officials said was modeled after several similar programs in the fields of insurance, education, and health care, will be the NTRA's effort to address concerns raised earlier this year by the general public and federal legislators that the racing industry does not adequately deal with medication and safety issues.

As a requirement of certification, member tracks will need to adopt yet-to-be-determined policies, comply with safety requirements, and support efforts to create national standards for medication rules, NTRA officials said.

According to officials, it is likely that the certification requirements will include a pledge to support efforts for uniform medication rules, including a ban on the non-therapeutic use of anabolic steroids; the ability to conduct out-of-competition testing for blood- and gene-altering drugs; the installation of inner safety rails; participation in the Jockey Club's injury reporting system; and the creation of a placement program for retired racehorses with one or more of industry's existing retirement farms.

Alex Waldrop, the chief executive of the NTRA, said that benefits from the certification program will be "market-driven," contending that racetracks that comply with the program will draw a larger share of wagering dollars than those that do not. He acknowledged, however, that the NTRA - a marketing and lobbying organization that draws the bulk of its funding from tracks and horsemen's organization - has no power to enforce the rules.

"The market will determine that it's valuable to be accredited," Waldrop said. "We can't make them do it. But if they don't they're out of the alliance."

NTRA officials described the program as a way for racetracks to implement collectively the existing and future recommendations of both the Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. The Jockey Club formed the committee earlier this year as a response to the public scrutiny surrounding the death of Eight Belles after the Kentucky Derby.

Thompson, who is also a former secretary of Health and Human Resources and is now a partner in the Washington, D.C., law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer, and Feld, will be paid by the NTRA to issue periodic reviews of member tracks' compliance with certification. The NTRA described Thompson as an "independent counsel" for the program.

When asked how he could ensure his independence as a paid consultant, Thompson cited his work as the health secretary during the George W. Bush administration, in which he brought attention to deficiencies in the U.S. food-inspection programs against the advice of the White House. Thompson, who was also co-owner of Flashy Bull - the winner of the 2006 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs - also cited his participation in the sport.

"I've always been extremely independent, and it will be no different in this case," Thompson said. "And the truth of the matter is, I'm passionate about it."

Waldrop said that the NTRA hopes to complete the code of conduct by the end of 2008 or during the first three months of 2009.

The NTRA made its announcement nine days before the Breeders' Cup, one of the rare occasions during the year in which the sport attracts national media attention.

Four months ago, officials from the NTRA and other racing organizations appeared before a Congressional hearing in which the sport was widely criticized for failing to implement uniform rules and for having a laissez-faire attitude toward medication and drug-testing. Several legislators warned the industry that they were considering federal legislation to mandate changes for the sport.