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NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance Report

Along with my fellow distaff racing bloggers Jess and Dana, I attended the NTRA’s Safety & Integrity Alliance press conference this morning. While acknowledging that the NTRA lacks centralized control over the industry in the US, Robert Elliston, the executive chairman of the NTRA (and president of Turfway Park) framed it as a ‘convening authority’ within the sport in his opening remarks.

There were a number of positive points to come out of the announcement (not the least being that they have successfully managed to get many tracks and industry organizations on board in a relatively short period of time). Many of the initial goals relate to drugs, injury prevention and retirement (which, for once, is not a difficult trifecta to bet) and NTRA CEO Alex Waldrop emphasized that the rollout of certification to the various organizations will be completed in a phased approach and also noted that feedback from bloggers and other fans had been taken into account. While it’s always nice to get a shout-out from the industry (particularly his message that we want real reform not, not just slogans), without a plan to move forward, it becomes empty ego-stroking to little end.

In this case, however, I felt that there was some real substance to the program with the introduction of Tommy Thompson as an independent counsel and with his law firm, Akin Gump, on board to develop a model code of conduct and rules an regulations that alliance members would adhere to. The part I was particularly pleased about was that there will be a regular ‘report card’ issued by that team to assess how benchmarks are being met — and that those reports will be independent. (Full disclosure: Tommy Thompson is a relative of Mr. Superfecta, although explaining precisely how is a bit complicated). Another key point that has been often overlooked of late is jockey safety; a few jockeys were in attendance and it was good to see them get some high-level representation on this issue.

In a nutshell, Alex Waldrop characterized the initiative as one that would ‘reward good behavior’ – and, to paraphrase Robert Elliston, if tracks do not all come up to the highest standards, they’ll all be out of business. Here’s hoping the first report card is a good one.

8 comments to NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance Report

  • Anonymous

    what is your response to your fellow blogger “aceisnottotheswift” subtly implying that your relative Mr. Thompson made derogatory remarks against the Jewish faith and is homophobic?

  • Superfecta

    I think you have to really work at it to to get those particular comments to mean much; I’d rather disagree about something more substantive (and I’m sure I do)!

    Besides, like I said, he’s related to Mr. Superfecta, not me directly. It’s all about context…

  • wendyu

    I was very disappointed that nothing was mentioned about the “track to slaughter” issue. And ironically, my home track, which has signed on with the NTRA’s reform alliance, has 2 registered trainers who are kill buyers. Based on what I’ve read from the NTRA, this track, who grudgingly allows (very limited privileges) a rescue organization to take their horses to be rehomed and retrained, will meet the criteria while they ship horses over the bridge to Canada. As a fan, it’s disturbing to realize that I’m cheering on a horse to win because if it doesn’t it will most likely be on the next shipment to Canada. That’s the reality.

    I’m watching this very closely to see what changes do come about especially at the small tracks like my home track. At this point, I feel this announcement is full of “pats on the backs” and “look at us, aren’t we good.” Actions speak louder than words so I’m anxious to see what actions take place.

  • Superfecta

    If you read the full document, homes for ex-racehorses are definitely in there; how it pans out will be something well worth watching. The fact remains, though, that thoroughbreds are not ‘popular’ in the meat industry – draft horses and quarter horses are the desired types because they simply have more mass.

    That’s not to say it doesn’t happen and that efforts should not be made to ensure that racehorses don’t meet that fate (and I hope we do see those moving forward), but it’s a much larger issue for the AQHA.

  • Kevin Stafford

    @Wendyu

    -just wanted to chime in that what you say is a legitimate concern. If I can allay that concern a bit, allow me to offer that I think most of us that met Alex last month in Vegas were equally as skeptical prior to meeting him.

    Having talked with the guy face to face – he means business. Just look at how quickly they’ve done the unthinkable in starting to eradicate steroids from the game in many states.

    There’s a ton of work left to be done, and I don’t think Alex or anyone else is in self-congratulatory mode. Heck, he kept telling us to “hold them accountable” for things like this, and to keep the pressure on for positive change (his exact expression was “hold our feet to the fire” – but that makes me think of barbecued feet, which makes my stomach ill). 🙂

    I guess what I’m getting at is this: I think you’re 100% right to be skeptical, but I honestly think this guy means what he says.

    Keep the pressure on though. Keep speaking up if you don’t think the efforts are enough. Trust me, they are listening. In that respect i’m deeply thankful for the concerns you raise and the others raised by fans and horse lovers all over the country.

  • Anonymous

    I am very concerned especially after reading other bloggers who have drawn the connection to Guiliani and Tommy Thompson with the NTRA.

    Could the republicans be in cohoots with the NTRA, especially with the anti-gay sentiments and anti-jewish sentiments by Thompson?? This may be a attempt to purge Jews and Gays from the industry by the NTRA.

    The fact that other reputable bloggers in your alliance have brought this up raises much concern.

  • wendyu

    Thanks Kevin and Superfecta. I am still skeptical. I know all too well what happens at the track. I’m on the board of an organization that tries to get the horses from the track before they are put on the KB’s truck. To me it’s a double standard for a track to say they care about the welfare of the horses yet they allow kill buyers to do business on the backside but not the rescue. Superfecta, I think you’d be very surprised by the numbers of thoroughbreds that get put on the slaughter truck.

    We could go on and on. The AQHA is out to make money thus promoting breeding and making dispensing of their duds easy. The NTRA needs the AQHA’s money for lobbying efforts. That’s not a secret. To have the backing of AAEP who is also pro slaughter does not make me feel good about the nuts and bolts of the NTRA’s plan.

    You can bet I’ll be putting the NTRA’s feet to the fire and holding them accountable. Particularly for tracks that have signed onto the alliance. I would hate for that alliance to be a mockery with tracks finding loopholes and continuing poor practices such as Pinnacle.

    Thanks again for the discussion. Obviously it’s an issue near and dear to me. I own 2 ex racers and I’m a diehard fan of racing. All I want is to help the sport and my own track grow and succeed. Cleaning it up is an excellent start!

    I’m hoping to catch some good photos this weekend of Pinnacles biggest day of racing (Michigan Sire Stakes Day) and show off their new facility and good racing. Knock on wood, they have had no fatalities at the track since it’s opened!

  • Superfecta

    I wouldn’t lump most people in with someone like Ghouliani; while I’m no fan of any ‘Republicans’ beyond Mike Bloomberg, I don’t think the party has anything to do with this beyond it involving a lot of white men of a certain age (and there’s a big difference between old-style Republicans like Thompson and the new order of anti-gay fundie wingnuts) – I have conspiracy theories to offer.

    That said, Wendy’s point about holding their feet to the flames is a valid one, and based on what I’ve seen so far and after speaking to both Waldrop and Thompson, I think we will see some results. They are certainly listening to what fans are saying and trying to respond, so hopefully we will see some positive change.

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