12/09/2009 1:00AM

NTRA safety panel seeks to steer business


TUCSON, Ariz. - The ultimate goal of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance is to convince the industry's participants and fans that the only racetracks worth their business are those that have become accredited, the program's top official said on Wednesday afternoon during the University of Arizona's Symposium on Racing and Gaming.

The alliance, which began inspecting tracks for accreditation earlier this year, has so far accredited every single track that has volunteered for inspection over the past nine months. That has led to some skepticism from both within and outside the industry that the alliance is performing nothing more than public relations.

In fact, according to the alliance's monitor, former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, that is one of the alliance's biggest problems after nine months of work: The racing public knows very little about its efforts and is not watching the alliance's progress. That may be because the alliance has yet to generate the big headline - the one that would accompany the decision to refuse to accredit a track.

Mike Ziegler, the executive director of the alliance, said that the alliance has not had to reject a track's application for accreditation because of the way the inspection system is set up. Under the system, tracks volunteer for accreditation, and those tracks that volunteer have already reviewed the application and made changes to their operations so that they will pass.

"You have the answers to the test before you take it," Ziegler said. "There's no way you'd volunteer for inspection knowing the negative publicity that would surround you if you failed."

So far, the alliance has pushed the sport's most high-profile tracks to volunteer for inspection. As a result, all three tracks that host Triple Crown races were accredited this year. (Pimlico Race Course received "provisional accreditation" because the state racing commission had not yet approved rules required under the application.) In addition, tracks with popular summer meets - Saratoga Race Course, Del Mar, and Monmouth Park - were accredited, along with Santa Anita Park, Hollywood Park, Turfway Park, Keeneland, Arlington Park, and Delaware Park. Applications for Woodbine, Aqueduct, and Fair Grounds are pending, and Gulfstream Park and Golden Gate Fields are scheduled for inspections later this winter.

Ziegler, Thompson, and other racing officials have stressed that the alliance maintained its independence during the inspections process even though the alliance created the standards and that the inspected tracks were responsible for its existence - tracks, after all, partially fund the budget for the NTRA. In fact, Thompson said on Tuesday that as a result of his recent audit of the program, many racing officials he interviewed remarked that Ziegler conducted rigorous inspections and personally verified information supplied by tracks.

Ziegler said the alliance expects to develop more stringent requirements for the 2010 applications, and that the alliance will add requirements relating to protections of bettors. Those requirements will likely deal with whether racetracks have proper safeguards in place to protect the pools from past-posted bets and manipulation of any betting data, Ziegler said.

The alliance is also developing a list of preferred practices for distribution to tracks that are participating in the inspections, Ziegler said. The distribution of such a list was a recommendation by Thompson in his audit of the program's first nine months.