The reasons behind a dramatic drop in the number of fatal injuries to race horses last year were outlined at this week’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in Kentucky, which also reported on racing surfaces, equine nutrition, biosecurity, and respiratory health.
Speaking at the Summit at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion in Lexington, Dr Tim Parkin, an epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow’s School of Veterinary Medicine, shared some insights regarding fatal injuries in 2015 compared to previous years.
“We now have seven full years of data in the Equine Injury Database [2009 to 2015] and the data is now driving our ability to have an impact on risk factors and fatalities.”
Among his findings were that racing horses at a young age reduces the chance of fatal injury.
“The vast majority of studies find that it is good thing and I’m not aware of any studies that say the opposite,” Parkin said. “We also noticed that the number of starts by 2-year-olds increased as fatality rates dropped.”
In addition, a lower risk of fatal injury was found with horses that stay longer with the same trainer, have more time off between races, and race farther than 6 furlongs.
“Our collective efforts are beginning to bear fruit,” Parkin said. “We have seen significant improvement even with a lot of unknown variables. I would urge tracks to continue to report complete data and for those tracks to study their own data; there is a greater awareness of importance of Thoroughbred welfare and continuous marginal gains are important.”
Parkin also encouraged the sharing of vet lists and the harmonization of medication regulations.
“We started from a standstill and the database has grown quickly,” he said. “It’s very exciting to see the positive impact the EID and subsequent analysis is starting to have.”
Dr Mick Peterson, executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, discussed track surface design and its relationship to the Equine Injury Database.
“Our goal is to make dirt surfaces consistently safe and reduce the risk to horses and riders,” he said.
”We now have a Management Quality System that includes track design data, track inspection data, and track maintenance data. And we can make racing safer when we study the Equine Injury Database, the Jockey Injury Database and the Management Quality System together.”
Later in the program, Dr Christopher Kawcak of the Orthopedic Research Center of Colorado State University discussed how biomarkers could be used to prevent catastrophic injuries. He said that biomarker analysis for equine injury risk requires sequential diagnosis over time via various imaging techniques.
The summit, which is organized and underwritten by Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and The Jockey Club, drew about 200 observers from the thoroughbred industry as well as an international audience who watched a live video stream. Topics also included biosecurity and the use of the riding crop.
Bill Casner, a Thoroughbred owner and breeder, covered respiratory and airway health and talked about steps he has taken to improve environmental conditions for his horses.
The afternoon session featured presentations on athletic training and rehabilitation, compounded medications, equine veterinary care, and lameness diagnosis.
In the final session, veterinarians Larry Bramlage, Kevin Dunlavy, and Mary Scollay discussed the importance of physical inspection from three different perspectives. Bramlage talked about the use of advanced imaging to find underlying causes for a symptom-free horse’s poor performance. Dunlavy talked about assessing a specific issue or problem causing lameness, and Scollay spoke of lameness inspections performed to ensure a horse is sound enough to compete.
The event was emceed by Donna Barton Brothers, former jockey and NBC racing analyst who serves on the advisory board for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.