Low risk profile of New Zealand Thoroughbred flat racing highlighted in study

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The New Zealand racing industry appears to be meeting its duty of care to horses, supporting its social licence to operate.
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New Zealand Thoroughbred flat racing has a lower risk profile than overseas jurisdictions, the findings of new research show.

Researchers with Massey Univesity examined the race-level reporting of incidents during the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.

Michaela Gibson and her fellow researchers looked at stipendiary stewards’ reports of race day events during the two seasons.

Primary injury and reporting outcomes were analysed to assess horse-related and race-level risk factors associated with the occurrence of incident and non-incident reports.

A total of 2683 races were run in the 2015/2016 season and 2460 races in the 2016/2017 season. During the two seasons, 6953 horses had a race start, with 5120 horses participating in at least one race in the 2015/2016 season and 4815 horses participating in at least one race in the 2016/2017 season.

Just under half the racing population were mares and fillies (49.0%), followed by geldings (47.6%) then stallions and colts (3.3%).

In total, there were 54,690 race starts across 49 racetracks.

In all, 1020 steward’s reports were generated for horses that participated in a race, of which 179 were coded as incidents and 841 were coded as non-incidents.

Incident reports involved major events occurring before, during or after the race, while non-incident reports typically involved examinations requested because of poor performance or other non-event concerns, often as a part of routine racing integrity screening.

Most stewards’ reports fell in the non-incident category, as a result of routine screening or poor performance.

The incidence of musculoskeletal injuries – there were 31 in all – was calculated at 1.3 per 1000 races, and fractures occurred at a rate of 0.6 per 1000 races. These findings were low by international standards and were similar to previous New Zealand reports.

There were four reports of cardiac failure, amounting to 0.07 per 1000 races.

There was a low incidence of bleeding from the nose, at 0.8 cases per 1000 races, possibly due to trainers screening susceptible horses before entering them because of the regulatory consequences of such bleeding during a race.

Horses running in open-class races had a greater of having an incident than horses in lower-rating classes, probably because of the intensity of the racing.

Looking only at incident reports, 3.3 were produced per 1000 starts. There were a variety of reasons listed for requesting them, including horses being pulled up or falling. However, most did not have a descriptor of the event, or were reported simply as “other” (64.8%).

The most common clinical outcome from an incident report was “no observable abnormalities detected” (38.55%), followed by laceration/abrasion (21.23%).

Musculoskeletal fractures were reported in 5.59% of incident reports and cardiac failure was reported in 1.68% of them.

Non-incident reports occurred 15.4 times per 1000 starts. More than two-thirds were for the routine post-racing screening of horses, or for health concerns not related to an “event” – for example, the screening of horses who performed below expectations.

Stewards were responsible for requesting most poor performance reports (85.3%). They were 2.7 times more likely to request a non-incident report for poor performance than for any other reason. The largest category for clinical outcome of a poor performance exam was no observable abnormalities detected (59.4%). Poor recovery was noted in 6.0% of reports, arrhythmia/cardiovascular in 8.0%, respiratory issues in 5.5%, musculoskeletal injuries in 5.3%, and lacerations/abrasions in 3.7% of reports.

The largest category of findings across all non-incident reports was no observable abnormalities detected (46.7%). The main clinical findings were laceration/abrasion (46.7%) followed by lameness (7.5%) and musculoskeletal issues that were not fractures (6.3%). Musculoskeletal fractures were reported in 2.5% of all non-incident reports.

The study team said the lower incidence of fatalities and injuries reported compared to overseas racing indicates a lower risk profile for New Zealand Thoroughbred flat racing.

They said the primary issues associated with the social license to operate in all horse racing disciplines tends to focus on the concept of injury and risk of injury to the equine participants.

Data from stewards’ reports can provide metrics for industry performance. “The level of steward’s reporting in Thoroughbred flat racing in New Zealand indicates that these data are representative of the industry and provides robust metrics of the industry’s performance.”

They said the low incidence of significant clinical findings from the high level of screening and reporting undertaken by stewards indicates that Thoroughbred flat racing in New Zealand is meeting its duty of care to horses. It also provides backing in terms of the industry’s social license to operate.

The study team comprised Gibson, Charlotte Bolwell, Erica Gee, Kylie Legg and Chris Rogers.

Gibson, M.J.; Bolwell, C.F.; Gee, E.K.; Legg, K.A.; Rogers, C.W. Race-Level Reporting of Incidents during Two Seasons (2015/16 to 2016/17) of Thoroughbred Flat Racing in New Zealand. Animals 2022, 12, 1033. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12081033

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here.

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