By: Alexa Ravit
The eighth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held Wednesday, June 27, at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion in Lexington, Ky., featured insightful discussions on topics ranging from disaster preparedness, jockey injuries, and equine injuries to racing integrity, Thoroughbreds as sport horses, and racing surfaces.
The summit, which was organized and underwritten by Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and The Jockey Club, drew approximately 200 observers as well as an international audience who watched a live video stream.
A video replay of the summit is available at grayson-jockeyclub.org/WelfareSafety/includes/2018Wss_agenda.asp.
Dr. Roberta Dwyer, an extension veterinarian at the University of Kentucky, discussed the importance of having a plan for yourself and your horses in case of a natural disaster. She recommended that all horses be microchipped to help with identification in instances when they are separated from their owners.
Participants of the panel titled, “Impacts of Weather – Equine Health and Business Decisions,” agreed with Dr. Dwyer’s point and that it also applied to racetracks, which must have plans in place when extreme weather occurs. It was also noted by Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, that large fluctuations in weather from day to day can be extremely disruptive to race days.
In the session focused on safety initiatives for jockeys, Dr. Peta Hitchens, research fellow in the Equine Orthopaedic Research Group, University of Melbourne, discussed the link between horse injury and jockey injury and the importance of acclimating horses, ensuring a good jockey/horse combination, understanding racehorse injuries, record keeping, and regular analysis with regard to decreasing the incidence of both.
“One of the most important things to me has been the standardization of both record keeping and the regular analysis of this data,” Dr. Hitchens said. “We will never know if our interventions are successful unless we can go back and look at whether our incidence of jockey falls and injuries and racehorse fatalities have reduced and the reasons for both.”
Also discussing jockey safety, Dr. Carl Mattacola, associate dean of academic and faculty affairs at the University of Kentucky, remarked that the lack of centralization in horse racing has made it difficult to implement national concussion protocols.
In an update of the Equine Injury Database, Dr. Tim Parkin, professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, reviewed risk factors for fatal injuries and focused on the time a horse spends with one trainer and a horse’s presence on the vet’s list with respect to a horse’s risk for injury.
For horses that have spent time with more than one trainer, risk of injury decreases with every extra month spent with the same trainer, and horses that have been put on a vet’s list are at a greater risk of suffering a fatal injury than horses that have never been on a vet’s list.
Dr. Parkin also remarked on the challenges of analyzing data from the Equine Injury Database. “We’re not lacking data. Statistical power isn’t an issue,” he said. “The issue is the frequency of outcome [low rate of fatal injuries] and the scope of data.”
He also stressed the need to increase the reporting of non-fatal injuries during racing and training.
Graham Motion, a Kentucky-Derby and multiple-stakes winning trainer, provided insight into the responsibilities of the trainer to the welfare of the horse in a Q&A session with Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation President Edward L. Bowen.
“Don’t be afraid to pass on bad news,” Motion said. “You have to know when it’s time to stop on a horse. We are there to protect [horses]. I think that’s a tremendous responsibility that I take very seriously.”
In the portion of the program that focused on integrity, viewers had the chance to learn about protocols that have been put in place in California, Kentucky, and at the Breeders’ Cup. For example, California’s program to monitor horses that are deemed to be “at-risk” has resulted in a 35% drop in fatalities.
Dora Delgado, the senior vice president of racing and nominations for the Breeders’ Cup, went into detail about the organization’s security and out-of-competition testing protocols and efforts to enable best practices in the industry no matter where the event is held.
“Whatever circumstances we can come up with, we’ve got a plan and a protocol for it,” said Delgado. “We want to make sure that everybody has the ability to get the best program available to them.”
One of the afternoon sessions focused on the success of Thoroughbreds as sport horses after their racing careers end and promoting the abilities of Thoroughbreds. One point of emphasis was avoiding the “one last race” mentality sometimes seen with Thoroughbreds.
According to Jen Roytz, the executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project, trainers should have a discussion about aftercare with new owners as part of an “on-board” protocol.
Katie Ruppel, the owner of Yellow Rose Eventing, also put responsibility on trainers to look out for their horses to give them a chance at a second career. “I’d like trainers to be a little more understanding and have a little more afterthought as to what their horses can do when they’re done racing,” she said.
The last presentation of the day was given by Dr. Mick Peterson, the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and the director of Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky. He noted the importance of consistent surfaces and proper moisture, especially on dirt tracks. He also highlighted the increased incidence and popularity of turf racing in the United States.
“We need to invest in ways to increase safe turf racing,” he said. “It should be a priority for the sport.”
According to Bowen, “This year’s summit offered an excellent mix of discussions on a variety of issues that demonstrate the industry’s dedication to the welfare of both humans and equines. It is encouraging to see the progress that the industry has made in areas from equine and jockey injuries to track surfaces and safely transitioning Thoroughbreds to second careers.”
The event was once again emceed by Donna Barton Brothers, former jockey and current NBC racing analyst, and was free and open to the public. It attracted a cross-section of Thoroughbred industry representatives, including owners, breeders, horsemen, regulators, veterinarians, racetrack officials, jockeys, and media.
The first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was held in October 2006; subsequent summits were held in March 2008, June 2010, October 2012, July 2014, July 2015, and June 2016.
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 $26.3 million to fund 358 projects at 43 universities in North America and overseas. Additional information about the foundation 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 the 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. Additional information is available at jockeyclub.com.