Racehorse Summit Highlights

The eighth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held June 27 at the Keeneland Sales Pavilion, in Lexington, Kentucky, featured 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.

Roberta Dwyer, DVM, an extension veterinarian at the University of Kentucky (UK), discussed the importance of having a plan for yourself and your horses in case of a natural disaster. She recommended microchipping all horses to help with identification if they are separated from their owners.

Participants agreed with Dwyer and noted that disaster preparedness also applies to racetracks, which must have plans in place when extreme weather occurs. Sal Sinatra, president and general manager of the Maryland Jockey Club, said large fluctuations in weather from day to day can be extremely disruptive to racing.

In the session focused on safety initiatives for jockeys, Peta Hitchens, MVPHMgt, PhD, research fellow in the University of Melbourne’s Equine Orthopaedic Research Group, 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,” 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, Carl Mattacola, PhD, associate dean of academic and faculty affairs at UK remarked that horse racing’s lack of centralization has made it difficult to implement national concussion protocols.

In an update of the Equine Injury Database, Tim Parkin, BVSc, PhD, Dipl. ECVPH, MRCVS, 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 its risk for injury.

For horses that have spent time with more than one trainer, injury risk 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.

Parkin also discussed 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 nonfatal injuries during racing and training.

Graham Motion, a Kentucky-Derby and multiple-stakes winning trainer, provided insight into the trainer’s responsibilities 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 focusing 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 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, discussed 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 Thoroughbreds’ success as sport horses after their racing careers end and promoting their abilities. One point of emphasis was avoiding the “one last race” mentality sometimes encountered in Thoroughbred racing.

Jen Roytz, the executive director of the Retired Racehorse Project, said trainers should have a discussion about aftercare with new owners as part of an “on-board” protocol.

Katie Ruppel, 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.

In the final presentation, Mick Peterson, PhD, the executive director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and director of UK’s Ag Equine Programs. 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.”

Said 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.”

Donna Barton Brothers, former jockey and current NBC racing analyst, emceed the event, which 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.