Stuart S. Janney III: Alex Waldrop will give you an update on the NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance and its accreditation program. We think Alex and his team are very much to be commended for the manner in which they conceived and launched the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance and its invaluable accreditation program.
Alex Waldrop: Thank you, Stuart.
I want to sincerely thank The Jockey Club for allowing me this opportunity to present to you the role that the NTRA is playing through our Safety and Integrity Alliance to help bring about the considerable progress that the Thoroughbred industry is making on the safety and integrity fronts.
The NTRA’s Safety and Integrity Alliance was organized in October of 2008 by building industrywide support for one simple affirmation:
The health and safety of our human and equine athletes and the integrity of our sport are horseracing’s top priorities.
Thanks to the good work of many organizations in this industry and many of you in this room today, in 2008 when we made that affirmation the industry already had a firm grasp on most of the important reforms that needed to take place in order to raise health and safety standards for racing. What we lacked was a method for quick and timely implementation and a program that we could use to benchmark our progress. Here is where the alliance and the accreditation process emerged as the solution.
Accreditation is widely used in other decentralized state regulated industries, including health care and education.
The Joint Commission for health care accreditation, which has been accrediting acute care facilities for more than 50 years, has been universally embraced by the health care industry. Virtually every health care facility in America is highly mindful of the importance of maintaining its accredited status, because the loss of accreditation means reduced or the loss of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. It means reduced patients; it means reduced profits.
According to The Council for Higher Education Accreditation, there are 80 recognized organizations accrediting more than 7,000 educational institutions serving more than 24 million students in the United States. Accreditation not only assures a quality education but also access to federal and state funding like Pell Grants, engenders private sector confidence and eases the student transfer process.
So, what exactly is accreditation? Well, in essence, it is both a process and a status. It is a process in that the entity or institution is evaluated to determine whether it conforms to an industry-established set of norms or standards. The result of the process, if successful, is the awarding of accredited status.
Thus, the first step in the alliance accreditation process was the drafting of the Alliance Code of Standards. In only a few short months, the alliance was able to create the necessary standards by working cooperatively with a broad group of industry stakeholders using current scientific research, recognized industry best practices, and recommendations from industry stakeholder groups, including The Jockey Club’s own Thoroughbred Safety Committee.
The 2009 code benchmarked standards in a number of areas, including equine injury reporting, pre- and post-race veterinary examinations, post-mortem examinations of catastrophically injured horses, participation in safety research, drug testing, racehorse retirement and transition to second careers. By design, the code is a permanent work in progress. That means that it will be modified from time to time to reflect new research and consensus on key areas of emphasis. For example, in 2010 the code was expanded to add wagering security protocols at the urging of horseplayers.
But establishing the code of standards was only half the battle. Without the awarding of accredited status to conforming tracks, the Alliance Code of Standards would be nothing more than a list of aspirations and platitudes.
The alliance grants accredited status to tracks who don’t just talk about it but who actually make costly but important changes to their equipment, to their facilities and operations and impose higher standards on participants through tough new house rules and improved regulatory oversight. To be accredited, a track must undergo an extensive application process [and] undergo a rigorous two-day inspection by the independent veterinary, operations and security experts to confirm full compliance with the code of standards in all material respects.
Today, 19 racetracks comprising more than 60% of all pari-mutuel handle in North America have been fully accredited. That’s a huge step in the right direction.
Because of accreditation, tracks and regulators in numerous states are now mandating the use of cushioned riding crops. Out-of-competition testing of horses is now a reality around the country. The use of approved safety helmets and vests is now commonplace at many facilities. We are seeing a vast improvement in pre-race testing for alkalinizing substances. And almost all tracks are participating in the Equine Injury Database.
Without accreditation as a catalyst, these changes might never have been implemented. And now, with each new round of accreditations, the tracks must demonstrate that they are keeping pace with the changes made to the evolving code of standards. Such is the case because reform is a never-ending process and the alliance is designed with that actuality in mind.
Another benefit of accreditation is the constructive engagement that occurs when tracks, horsemen and state regulators work together to adopt permanent standards in the form of new or improved regulations. A few months ago, Sunland Park in New Mexico expressed an interest in accreditation. As track management filled out the application, it became clear that Sunland and New Mexico racing as a whole were substantially behind the rest of the country in areas such as pre-race inspections and drug testing. As a result of Sunland’s efforts to be accredited, the New Mexico Racing Commission passed rules to:
- Reduce the level of allowable Banamine to the same standard as California’s – it was a fiftyfold reduction;
- [Allow] for TC02 testing; and
- Mandate the wearing of approved safety helmets and vests.
Also, Sunland Park stepped up to hire an association vet to conduct pre-race examinations and to pull pre-race samples for blood gas. This is exactly how the accreditation process was meant to work.
But the alliance is driving for more than simple regulatory change. It is recognizing those in the industry who are committed to doing what is right for the horse. The accredited tracks and horsemen must help fund new research into the causes of racing-related injuries. And last but certainly not least, accredited tracks and their horsemen are required to build bridges with local retirement and retraining facilities to take care of our retired racehorses.
So there are still bars to be raised and higher standards to be achieved and certainly many more tracks to be accredited, but the critical point is this: Accreditation is an idea whose time has come. The first application for the Joint Commission for health care accreditation ran about four pages. Today that application is hundreds of pages long. The alliance began with a 17-page application. Today we are at 48 pages and growing.
And in the not-too-distant future, we plan to have national standards not just for racetracks but for every facility that has a hand in the care and management of the racehorse. This is because horse health and safety does not begin or end on the racetrack.
I want to leave you with some final thoughts.
We have certainly made great strides with racetrack accreditations but much work remains. As I mentioned earlier, accredited tracks have committed significant human and financial resources to do what is best for our horses, our riders, our fans and our sport. These tracks deserve to be tangibly rewarded for their efforts. Otherwise, we risk seeing some tracks continue to take the easier — and cheaper — road of ignoring safety and integrity issues in the hope that these issues will simply go away. I can promise you that these issues will not go away, nor should they.
Eventually, alliance accreditation must become the gateway to government funding for things like safety and integrity. States will have to recognize accreditation as a basic requirement for licensure. These kinds of benefits and rewards are the very foundation of health care and education accreditation.
But until these broad benefits materialize, every person in this room can and must be a part of the effort that the alliance has begun.
As owners and trainers, you can make a difference simply by voluntarily and independently committing to run some or all of your horses exclusively at accredited racetracks. As for horseplayers, you can do the same by voluntarily and independently committing to wagering some or all of your money exclusively on races run at accredited tracks.
With your support, we will continue to build on the successes of the past two years. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the only course of action that will ensure the long-term viability of this industry that we are all so passionate about.
I thank you for your ongoing support of the alliance, and I thank you for your attention.