National Racing Association Issues Drug and Safety Directives (US)

By BILL FINLEY | New York Times | October 15, 2008
Cross-posted from this link

Morry Gash/Associated Press
Eight Belles, left, finished second in the Kentucky Derby. The owner Rick Porter had so much confidence in her that he decided to bypass Friday's Kentucky Oaks, which is for fillies only, to race against males in the Derby. Eight Belles tragically broke down after the finish line and was put down on the track. Photo: Morry Gash/Associated Press

Five months after the death of Eight Belles at the Kentucky Derby focused attention on horse racing’s safety and integrity problems, an industry organization announced a series of suggested reforms Wednesday and named Tommy Thompson, the former governor of Wisconsin, to monitor efforts to improve the troubled sport.

Many of the recommendations issued by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, like a ban of steroids and a call for tracks to install safer rails, were not ground breaking; several racing jurisdictions have already taken steps in those areas. But the N.T.R.A. also called for the industry to increase efforts to deal with a number of other problems, like blood doping, the slaughter of retired racehorses and a lack of funding for drug-testing programs.

“Our industry is taking strong, positive steps to ensure the safety and integrity of our sport,” said Alex Waldrop, the association’s president and chief executive. “Despite challenges and significant short-term and long-term costs, there is an unprecedented level of commitment among thoroughbred racing’s leadership to see these measures through.”

The N.T.R.A. does not have the authority to enforce any of its recommendations, but Waldrop said any track that refuses to comply with its directives would not be certified. That would probably cause bettors to wager less on that track’s races, he added.

“We will be rewarding tracks that comply and the fans will also be rewarding them,” Waldrop said. “This will be market driven. The market will reward those who step up and do the right thing. Lack of certification will mean you are lacking in some fundamental aspect of the business and you will lose your business as a consequence.”

Thompson, who served as the secretary of health and human services during President Bush’s first term, said he would act as an independent monitor and provide annual reports assessing the industry’s progress toward meeting its goals.

“The only reason I took this was the conditions that I would be completely independent,” said Thompson, who owned a share in the 2006 Kentucky Derby starter Flashy Bull. “I will be able to look at what is going on, offer suggestions and be completely transparent. I am going to report to the public and press to make sure that we are doing our job and doing it correctly. I am going to be issuing a report card on a periodic basis. I hope they get A’s, but if they don’t and they get F’s, I am going to report that.”

Brian Bohannon/Associated Press
After the Kentucky Derby, Eight Belles collapsed after pulling up. According to Dr. Larry Bramlage, among the on-call veterinarians Saturday at Churchill Downs, she broke both of her front ankles and was euthanized on the track. Photo: Brian Bohannon/Associated Press

The sport was heavily criticized after this year’s Kentucky Derby. Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, finished second but broke down after the finish line and had to be euthanized. Eight Belles’s death came less than two years after Barbaro was injured in the Preakness and subsequently had to be put down. The two high-profile deaths led to charges that racing is a cruel sport. The intensified attention on horse racing also led to criticism that it had done little to control widespread use of legal and illegal drugs.

Robert Elliston, an N.T.R.A. official and the president of Turfway Park in Florence, Ky., said the death of Eight Belles served as a wake-up call.

“The Eight Belles situation will have a lasting benefit,” he said. “It caused the fans to stand up and speak in a unified way and the industry responded in a unified way. If we don’t implement these changes, we’re not going to be around. If we don’t implement these measures at Turfway Park, I don’t think the fans are going to support our racing product.”

Even if all the recommendations are implemented, the United States and Canada would remain the only major racing countries that allow horses to race on legal drugs. Lasix, which trainers say helps control bleeding, is given to more than 90 percent of horses on the day they race. Waldrop said the N.T.R.A. would continue to monitor the use of legal medications. New York Times

The End.

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