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Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit Concludes

The June 22 summit shed light on new findings and technology.

Rick Samuels

The afternoon session of the June 22 Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit educated and informed attendees on forging forward, using data and findings derived from a panel of regulatory veterinarians, PET scans of more than 1,000 racehorse fetlocks, and advances in racing surfaces.

The final two sessions highlighted up-and-coming members of the Thoroughbred industry, why welfare and safety are important for Gen X, and how new technology within shared databases is helping ensure safety for horses and workers on the track.

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"The mentality of did he win, then he doesn't need to be on the vet's list, what more could you want from the horse?" has changed, stated Dr. Mary Scollay-Ward, ex-director and COO of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

Scollay-Ward has experienced changes on the backside through the years, while leaps and bounds have been made in monitoring and reporting soundness in the racehorse, along with accessibility to diagnostic tools being more readily available at racetracks across the country.

"The biggest change I have seen is the medication policies, rules, and regulations," Dr. Jaclyn Bradley of Prairie Meadows commented. "Initially, you could administer an inter-articular injection of corticosteroids up to 48 hours before a race in my state. We were lucky enough to move that out to five days, then seven, then 14 ultimately, and adopt policies on the number of times you can inject into a joint."

Progression of Technology: InCompass and Veterinary Medicine

The position of regulatory veterinarian has changed over the years with the progression of technology. In 2008 the implementation of the online database made a step forward, giving access nationwide to veterinarians on-site for pre-and post-race exams. InCompass has continued to evolve with the demand and thoroughness of these exams, providing more complete details on each horse.

Incompass is an online platform, giving its customers/racetracks various recording packages on race day and with routine exams in the barns to help have an integrated nationwide database. These reports help racetracks monitor the health and welfare of the population at each track. The new flagship Track Facility component is currently in use at the Thoroughbred Training Center to help address welfare and safety needs.

Each panelist shared a time in their career where putting the horse first was the best decision, while also a hard call, which ultimately left owners and trainers, sometimes who traveled in from out of state, without a race to break from. Continued efforts to standardize the language used amongst veterinarians in InCompass still have steps to be made and inclusion at all racetracks in the U.S.

Research gleaned over the past two and a half years from more than 1,000 racehorse fetlocks through positron emission tomography was shared by associate professor of surgical and radiological sciences at UC Davis, Dr. Mathieu Spriet. These results were derived from five PET scanners across the country and cross-referenced against computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging to help show a cross-section which helped create a protocol for diagnosing future injuries, fractures, and return to training timelines for the various injuries.

Funding from The Stronach Group helped implement these scanners at Golden Gate Fields, Santa Anita, and the Fair Hill Training Center. Each of these racetracks has different surfaces, which have accounted for different types of reoccurring injuries found over the past research period. These findings will help develop better diagnostics for diagnosing lameness, monitoring healing and reoccurrence, fracture healing prognosis, and fracture risk assessment/screening.

Testing Racing Surfaces to Reduce Muscular-Skeletal Injury

Racing surfaces testing to help prevent muscular-skeletal injury has evolved from initially being held in a garage to now having dedicated facilities, thanks to the efforts of Mike Peterson. The knowledge of temperatures and how they affect surfaces progressively through the day has been mastered through ample water and maintenance.

"Muscular skeletal injury within the racehorse remains a goal for me; we have certainly made improvements but have by no means solved all of the issues," Dr. Wayne Mcllwraith, founding director of the Orthopaedic Research Center at Colorado State University, stated. "The physical demands placed on the muscular-skeletal system are reached through the high speeds of racing and training, and the surface is a risk factor."

Best practices have been established along with maintenance quality standards seen from the West to the East Coast. Funding from the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation has helped implement equipment needed to research surfaces and the effects on the Thoroughbred equine athlete.

Safety and Welfare: What the Future Holds

The adage, 'The youth are our future' remains steadfast in the Thoroughbred industry. A panel of five ambitious professionals shared their experiences on the safety and welfare of the racehorse and why it is crucial to instill these standards in our future generations.

Hallie Hardy, executive director of Horse Country, commented: "We all were engaged with horses at some point in our youth; that's why we are passionate about a career in this industry. It is crucial to each of us that safety and welfare are considered when it comes to the equine athlete and the human athlete. It's something that we should proactively and continue to address.

The final topics for discussion came from InCompass' senior vice president, Chris Dobbins, and Dr. Stuart Brown, vice president of equine safety at Keeneland.

Moving forward with the July 1 HISA mandate, InCompass will cross-reference in congruence with track entries, allowing visibility to each track for horses on the HISA vet list, equine injury reporting database, and jockey health information.

EquiTAPS HISA Enhancements will be introduced in July, which will be accessible to trainers, owners, and responsible parties to help pass ownership, treatment records reporting, and replacement of ETRS onto HISA.
InCompass programs implemented at Keeneland and the Thoroughbred Training Center have helped advance Keeneland's safety and focus on race day for the horses and jockeys.

"With the instrumental advancements we have made, eyes on the ground observing these horses at work in training are still essential," commented Brown.