By: Matt Hegarty

TUCSON, Ariz. – The administrators of a voluntary accreditation program for racetracks have added a section to the code requiring tracks to push state racing commissions to demand that laboratories implement drug-testing procedures and policies recommended by national policy groups, according to the program’s executive director.

Steve Koch, the executive director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance, announced the update to the accreditation code during a Tuesday afternoon panel examining drug-testing laboratories at the Symposium on Racing and Gaming in Tucson, Ariz. He said the addition of the language would have the effect of making a state’s entire racing industry responsible for best-practice drug-testing policies, while noting that in many states racetracks pay for drug testing.

“Too often for racetracks the drug testing just happens, and we take for granted that it’s getting done properly,” said Koch, who is a former executive for Woodbine Entertainment Group.

The new language in the accreditation code elevates the stature of a model request-for-proposals document that was released nine months ago by the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, a policy group formed 10 years ago with representation from nearly every major U.S. racing constituency. That document was released to aid state racing commissions in evaluating whether drug-testing laboratories were capable of conducting top-quality work while also holding the labs accountable for their testing procedures.

Many racing groups have been pushing for improvements in the quality of the sport’s drug testing as part of a larger effort to address criticisms of racing’s overall medication policies. For some groups, progress on the front has not come quickly enough, leading to a bitter divide in the industry over an effort to push for federal legislation that would mandate the designation of a private company, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, as the overseer of the sport’s medication policies, including in the area of drug testing.

The NTRA launched its racetrack accreditation program five years ago. Since then, several dozen racetracks – including most of the highest-profile tracks in the U.S. – have been granted accreditation under a voluntary program in which the tracks must comply with a code of standards, but a far greater number of racetracks have never sought accreditation. Accreditation is not required of tracks, and critics of the program have said the standards lack meaning if tracks are not penalized for failing to comply.

Earlier in the day, panelists at a separate session, including Koch, called for the implementation of penalties for tracks that do not seek accreditation, including a prohibition on holding graded stakes races. Amy Zimmerman, the director of broadcasting for The Stronach Group who recommended the graded-stakes ban, called the lack of total industry buy-in to the accreditation program an “industry embarrassment.”

At the Tuesday afternoon session on laboratory standards, Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, urged track officials to press commissions to comply with the new accreditation standards, saying that the penalty is a loss of confidence in their own racing product.

“You do have a dog in this fight,” Dr. Scollay said. “Bad drug testing is going to cost you money at the bottom line. If people do not have confidence in your drug testing they are not going to bet on your races.”

Similarly, Ed Martin, the president of Racing Commissioners International, while speaking as a member of the audience at the afternoon panel, urged his members to use the model RFP developed by the RMTC. He called the document a “tremendous step forward” in uniting racing commissions behind common regulations and standard.