Necropsies Teaching About Catastrophic Racehorse Injuries

Researchers are making steady progress toward understanding catastrophic fractures and, ultimately, how to prevent them.
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“Every racehorse that dies on the track is a tragedy,” said Laura Kennedy, DVM, Dipl. ACVP. But each of those horses, she said, is an opportunity to learn, collect data, and educate about what happened.

As part of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s (KHRC) Necropsy Program, Kennedy, an assistant professor and veterinary pathologist at the University of Kentucky (UK) Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL), in Lexington, examines every racehorse that dies or is euthanized at any KHRC-regulated property. During each necropsy, she records detailed information about each horse with the hope that she and her colleagues can, eventually, eliminate catastrophic injuries from racing. And while the end goal remains a long way off, Kennedy and her coworkers have made substantial progress in understanding catastrophic fractures and why they happen. She presented an update on the program and her work Oct. 13 at UK’s Gluck Equine Research Center, also in Lexington.

Program History

Kennedy said the KHRC’s necropsy program is largely based on the California Horse Racing Board’s “flagship program,” which aimed to study the nature of the fatal injuries, determine the reasons behind them, and eventually develop preventive strategies.

The KHRC’s necropsy program was launched in January of 2009 for two reasons, Kennedy said. One reason was that a number of high-profile racehorses, including Barbaro and Eight Belles, had suffered catastrophic injuries in recent years. But the main catalyst behind it, she said, was a higher-than-normal number of breakdowns at Turfway Park, in Northern Kentucky, in December 2008

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Written by:

Erica Larson, former news editor for The Horse, holds a degree in journalism with an external specialty in equine science from Michigan State University in East Lansing. A Massachusetts native, she grew up in the saddle and has dabbled in a variety of disciplines including foxhunting, saddle seat, and mounted games. Currently, Erica competes in eventing with her OTTB, Dorado.

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