New York — A Congressional panel earlier this year questioned whether the nation's horse racing industry had the will and ability to regulate itself or whether government intervention would be necessary.
If that was meant as a challenge, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association believes it has met the challenge head-on in adopting a set of equine health and safety reforms it considers one of the most important steps in its 10-year history.
It created a new organization Oct. 15 called the Safety and Integrity Alliance to implement eight key reforms, and appointed Tommy G. Thompson, former four-term governor of Wisconsin and Secretary of Health and Human Services, as its independent counsel.
Thompson, currently a partner in a Washington, D.C., law firm, will head a team that will regularly monitor progress on the reforms and issue an annual report. Thompson says he accepted the position only on condition that he would be fully independent.
The reforms are uniform medication rules for each racing state; a ban on steroids in racing; out-of-competition testing for blood and gene doping agents and pre-race testing; uniform penalties for all medication violations; mandatory on-track and non-racing injury reporting; mandatory installation of a protective inner safety rail; mandatory pre- and post-race security; and adoption of a placement program for Thoroughbreds no longer competing.
"It might be fair to say this is as important an announcement (as any) in the 10-year history of the NTRA," Robert Elliston, NTRA executive chairman, said at a press conference.
The group's board of directors approved the reforms in September, and so far at least 54 racing jurisdictions have signed on, with more expected. The NTRA, Jockey Club and other racing groups began intensive work on reforms immediately after the nationally televised breakdown of the filly Eight Belles in this year's Kentucky Derby.