By: Janet Patton and Alicia Wincze Hughes
Breeders’ Cup and Keeneland are taking extra steps to make sure all the competitors on hand for the world championships are as safe as they can be, a special concern after a rash of fatal breakdowns during the fall racing meet.
The barns, normally open at Keeneland, are closed to the public, as is the road leading to them. The racetrack surface has been inspected by the industry’s top expert. The horses will be examined before each race.
Should a horse need emergency vet care, Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission have two state-of-the-art equine ambulances at the ready and the Hagyard Medical Institute’s Equine Injury Response Unit on site.
Before they even get to the track, the competitors are in a cocoon of safety, according to officials, with private security, racetrack security, Breeders’ Cup investigators, racing commission officials and even the Kentucky National Guard on hand.
All the runners have been at the track at least 72 hours before the day of their race, with high-definition security cameras — which trainers may access — in every stall, according to the Breeders’ Cup. Overseas horses have separate barns so they can stay in quarantine.
The barns on Rice Road are devoted to the Breeders’ Cup horses and other runners for Friday and Saturday, giving the championships an unusual level of control.
“It’s a really unique situation for Breeders’ Cup,” said Dora Delgado, Breeders’ Cup senior vice president for racing and nominations. “We’re using this as almost our perfect model for vet inspections, for security. We’ve never had an opportunity to put all the Breeders’ Cup horses together. … This will be a really unique opportunity to showcase what security and vet inspections could work like. When we go to Del Mar (in 2016) we hope we can replicate it there, too.”
Many of the horses have had blood drawn well before their races for what is called “out of competition testing” to look for blood doping agents that can affect performance for weeks afterward. A select number were tested again 24 hours after the first blood was drawn to make sure no horse was being doped after they were checked.
Horses in the races may have only the anti-bleeder medication furosemide — commonly known as Lasix or Salix — in their systems. And it may be administered only by racing commission licensed vets.
After all of the Breeders’ Cup races, the first four finishers and other starters selected at random will be tested for more than 100 performance-enhancing substances under the “super-testing” guidelines established by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association as part of enhanced security measures.
Owners of all runners also may request pre-race testing of their horses if they are concerned about withdrawal times for medications permitted during training but not racing.