Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit VI: Focus on Racetrack Surfaces, Injury Databases, and Post-Mortem Programs

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The sixth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was held Wednesday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky, and this one placed an emphasis on racetrack surfaces, equine and jockey injury databases, continuing education and post-mortem programs.

The conference, held in the Keeneland sales pavilion, once again brought together a cross-section of the Thoroughbred industry, including owners, breeders, horsemen, veterinarians, jockeys, track managers and regulators.

Approximately 200 people attended the summit and an international audience watched the entire program on a live video stream. All slide presentations from the summit are available at grayson-jockeyclub.org/WelfareSafety/default.asp?section=48 and a video replay is expected to be available July 9.

Like the five previous summits, held in October 2006, March 2008, June 2010, October 2012 and July 2014, this summit was underwritten and coordinated by The Jockey Club and Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and hosted by Keeneland Association.

“Today’s summit proved once again how initiatives created at prior summits are benefitting our athletes and our industry today,” said Edward L. Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. “I believe that those initiatives and some of the ideas and technologies discussed at this summit will have a positive impact on the welfare and safety of racing’s athletes in the years to come.”

“The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit consistently proves to be a source of invaluable information and significant initiatives to improve the welfare and safety of our athletes,” said Keeneland President and Chief Executive Officer Bill Thomason. “Keeneland is proud to have once again hosted an event that is so important for protecting the human and equine athletes in our sport.”

Dr. Tim Parkin, an equine epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow and a consultant to the Equine Injury Database, discussed risk factors associated with fatalities. He said the risk of fatal injury increases by 30% if a horse has suffered a previous injury that was recorded in the Equine Injury Database.

Parkin also said that there is widely held misconception that horses should not run as 2-year-olds when in fact it is better for bone development when they do run at two. He added that the highest risk of fatalities in the U.S. occurs in sprint races (6 furlongs or fewer).

In a segment devoted to track surfaces, Glen Kozak, vice president of facilities and racing surfaces for the New York Racing Association, discussed how equipment for track maintenance has evolved and said track superintendents “can always do more” to improve maintenance and safety.

“One of the biggest safety factors for track superintendents is evaluating the cushion of the track and the moisture content and the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory helps us do that,” Kozak said. “Sharing information with our colleagues at conferences like this is also immensely helpful to all of us.”

In a segment on continuing education, Dr. Rick Arthur, the equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board, said, “There has been a cultural change [in recent years], and we have to prove to the public that we are doing our best to care for our horses. We have an obligation to protect both the horse and the rider. We have to care and we have to be proactive. Continuing education is a way to do that; many injuries are preventable.”

Dr. Larry Bramlage, the noted equine surgeon and partner in Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, discussed bone issues and safety in a one-on-one conversation with Bowen.

“Good trainers seem to have a sense to push a horse to fitness without pushing him to injury,” Bramlage said. “Trainers can sense when horses are thriving and doing well.”

Bramlage also emphasized the importance of keeping horses moving and the huge advantage of keeping horses in a field because it keeps their circulation moving. He believes that today’s horses aren’t as tough as they used to be because they are handled differently.

To close the summit, Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, moderated a panel focusing on lessons learned from post-mortem programs.

She talked about detecting medication usage patterns through the use of out of-competition testing and expressed concern that medication usage masks unsoundness during high-stress exercise in workouts.

“Losing an opportunity to see if horse has orthopedic disease, I would submit, does not represent acting in best interests of the horse,” she said.

Scollay encouraged regulators to use out-of-competition testing and study the medication usage patterns they observe.

NBC Sport racing analyst Donna Barton Brothers served as master of ceremonies for the summit.

Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation is traditionally the nation’s leading source of private funding for equine medical research that benefits all breeds of horses. Since 1983, the foundation has provided more than $22 million to fund 322 projects at 41 universities in North America and overseas. Additional information about the foundation and the summit is available at grayson-jockeyclub.org.

The Jockey Club, founded in 1894 and dedicated to the improvement of Thoroughbred breeding and racing, is the breed registry for North American Thoroughbreds. In fulfillment of its mission, The Jockey Club, directly or through subsidiaries, provides support and leadership on a wide range of important industry initiatives, and it serves the information and technology needs of owners, breeders, media, fans and farms. It is a founding member of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities and the architect and sole funding source for America’s Best Racing, the broad-based fan development initiative for Thoroughbred racing. You can follow America’s Best Racing at americasbestracing.net as well as on social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram.