Friday, 10 April 2009

Too Little, Too Lacking

Yesterday, on what the NTRA’s president and CEO Alex Waldrop dubbed "An Important Day for Racing" , Churchill Downs became the first racetrack accredited to the Safety and Integrity Alliance standard.

We're confident that our public, regulators, horsemen and others will embrace those who take the extra steps that are needed to ensure the highest level of safety and integrity of horse racing. Over time, those tracks and horsemen who unite in support of the Alliance and its Code of Standards will lead this industry in the right direction and in doing so, will secure horseracing's future for generations to come. (Alex Waldrop)

Waldrop remains vague on the merits of being an accredited track, also unclear is why he believes that SIA tracks will automatically lead the industry. Are bettors gonna stop betting other tracks? Is there any reason for horsemen to avoid non-accredited tracks?

What always strikes me about press releases concerning the SIA is that the contents of its centerpiece, the "Code of Standards" aren’t mentioned, in fact you have to search a little to find it on the NTRA website (it's the second result from the top). The reason becomes obvious for those who actually read it. Practically all of the standards are either already regulated by law in almost all states or, like post-mortem vet examinations of horses that broke down during a race, incredibly basic. In the critical "Medications and Testing" part, the NTRA, in the absence of any authority granted, has to resort to a meager declaration of intent, whereby racetracks "shall advocate" the emergence of uniform regulations. In a similar manner, racetracks "shall affiliate with and provide funding for recognized placement/adoption program(s) that meet AAEP criteria". The worst that can happen to any racetrack violating those rules: having their accreditation revoked (and of course it remains to be seen how tracks trailing on the "shall" standards will be treated). How can there even be tracks left unwilling to sign this?

What’s missing is any increased punishment for cheating trainers and owners, any increased oversight for horses on any other than raceday or any progress towards the emergence of a central oversight authority.

One probably doesn’t need to look any further than the two incidents shocking the racing world this week. Neither would SIA standards have prevented the Paragallo scandal, nor would they change the outcome of the Mullins incident.

When we set out on this journey following last year's Triple Crown, we based our actions on a sense of commitment to our customers and industry stakeholders.

Wanna guess which of the two groups had more influence on the outcome of the SIA rules? The newest code of standards for American racing remains laughable when compared to what has been standard in other racing jurisdictions for years. It could be called a very first step, but it may just as well be nothing more than a pacifier.

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