Making Strides For Safety

Many of the major United States track owners and racing associations have combined resources in a collaborative effort to bring meaningful improvements to the safety of horses and humans who compete in Thoroughbred racing.

At the Keeneland library on November 19th, those industry leaders announced the formation of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition.  The group includes Churchill Downs Inc., the New York Racing Association, The Stronach Group, Del Mar, Keeneland, and Breeders’ Cup.  Coalition representatives outlined plans to create and implement significant medication, operational, and integrity guidelines to ensure and improve the well-being of horses and riders.

Drew Fleming, president and CEO of Breeders’ Cup, said the goal is to create the safest environment possible for equine and human participants.

“We’re here today because we recognize that responsibility and the need to be honest, transparent, and accountable,” Mr. Fleming said. “While each of our individual organizations has prioritized the well-being of our athletes, we know that more must be done.  We believe that coming together and leveraging our collective resources, and establishing a leadership position, will help our industry as a whole as we address the public concerns about safety and welfare.  Addressing those concerns head-on is in the best interest of our athletes and our sport.”

Fleming later added, “We know we need to get this right.”

At present the coalition does not have representation from a horsemen’s group, coalition members said other like-minded industry groups are welcome to join.  Mike Rogers, president of racing for The Stronach Group, noted the track owners have worked with horsemen’s groups, the Jockeys’ Guild, and other industry groups to bring about changes in California and he anticipates a similar approach from the coalition.

“We want to bring them to the table and be a part of this change,” Rogers said. “Otherwise it’s going to be a challenge.  We absolutely want to bring in everybody.”

The coalition will account for all three Triple Crown races and about 85% of the Graded Stakes in the country.  Breeders’ Cup accounts for the annual World Championship events.  The 14 tracks represented are in California, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.  Gabbert believes that reach will carry weight when the coalition asks regulators for any changes.

While each race day tracks throughout the U.S. compete for horses and wagering dollars, the coalition members said they all have the same interest in providing as safe an environment as possible for horses and humans competing in the sport.  They believe joining forces on this issue will facilitate progress.

“Acting together as one voice is needed,” Rogers said.  “I think on most of these points we have consensus; there’s a few we still have to work through.  But working together as an industry is needed — horses ship from one jurisdiction to another.  This opportunity to work together with all of the major stakeholders and try to improve uniformity I think is long overdue.”

“When it comes to safety, I think we get to consensus a lot faster than say on some financial matter like a simulcast contract.  When it comes to those issues, it can be contentious, but when it comes to safety, I don’t think there’s anyone who doesn’t agree that we have to reform.”

Those reforms will go beyond medication issues to address best practices in operational standards including the adoption of voided-claim rules, requiring daily reporting by vets to regulatory officials, increased out-of-competition testing of horses, adoption of a uniform riding-crop rule, and mandating autopsies of horses who suffer catastrophic injury or illness.

“These reforms are vitally important for our industry,” said Churchill Downs racetrack president Kevin Flanery.  “What is just as important as we implement our plan, is to tell the millions of fans throughout the country who love the Thoroughbred and love Thoroughbred racing, that we are committed to making our sport safer.”

The Daily Racing Blog feel this coalition is a great idea, albeit long overdue.  In order for this industry to not only carry on, but to be successful it needs all the governing bodies to stop acting independently and work together.  We suggest they respectfully talk out their differences, get past those differences and agree to work on significant reforms, meaningful objectives and explicit actions all with complete transparency.  This is a great first step ladies and gentlemen.  The eyes of the horse-racing world are watching.  Please don’t throw a shoe.

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