AAEP Convention: Horse Racing Safety Review

Safety in Thoroughbred horse racing became a very public concern two years ago when a series of catastrophic breakdowns at Santa Anita Park in Southern California became national news. Veterinarians presented safety measures put in place to protect horses and humans.

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Santa Anita
Safety in Thoroughbred horseracing became a very public concern two years ago when a series of catastrophic breakdowns at Santa Anita Park in Southern California became national news. | Photo: Photo: Courtesy Breeders Cup/Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire

Safety in Thoroughbred horseracing, a long-standing topic of discussion within the industry, became a very public concern two years ago when a series of catastrophic breakdowns at Santa Anita Park in Southern California became national news.

The result was an intense look at safety by racing jurisdictions across the country. Ryan Carpenter, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, of Equine Medical Center, in Cypress, California, and Timothy Grande, DVM, MPH, official veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board, recently spoke on the current state of safety issues and efforts at the 2020 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held virtually.

Both veterinarians work in California, where changes came quickly. They included:

  • Mandatory stand-down times after treatments and therapies such as joint injections and shock wave;
  • Updated medication policies, especially regarding non-steroidal anti-inflammatories;
  • The elimination of race-day medications, including furosemide (Lasix) in 2-year-old races and graded stakes races;
  • Policies requiring veterinary examinations at specific times, such as post-race, post-workout, and out-of-competition, as well as at-risk exams and training observation;
  • The elimination of riding crops for exercise riders; and
  • An assessment of injuries, diagnostics, and treatments when removing horses from the veterinarian’s list and returning them to active status.

“I can tell you a year and a half later, we have a much safer industry and a better backside because of them,” Carpenter said of the changes. “And I’m impressed to see that other racing jurisdictions across North America have implemented many of the same policies.”

The changes affect more than just horsemen, as safety is an issue influenced by all stakeholders in Thoroughbred racing, Grande says, including owners, trainers, veterinarians, track owners, maintenance crews, regulators, jockeys, and the public.

“In terms of safety, the key issue that must be addressed in Thoroughbred racing is balancing the performance of high-speed exercise against periods of rest,” Grande said, explaining that stakeholder conduct and training methodology can influence that balance significantly. “Essentially, the practices and decision-making of the people overseeing the racehorse population largely control the amount of exposure to adverse conditions and situations that racehorses are subjected to, both at the population level and the individual level.”

Private practitioners are concerned with the health and safety of the horse at an individual level. Regulatory veterinarians take a broader population view, which allows them to focus on upstream factors related to injury development, Grande says. By identifying upstream factors such as stable facilities, training methods, track surface conditions, and class levels, regulators can develop interventions to prevent and minimize catastrophic injuries.

“If we’re going to tackle this problem of safety, we have to acknowledge that it is multifactorial,” Carpenter said. “We have to acknowledge that it won’t be a quick fix until we all start working together. We have to recognize that in our industry, uniformity is key for our survival, and we have to do everything we can each and every day to minimize risk.”


Written by:

Stacy Pigott is a freelance writer based in Tucson, Arizona. For 25 years, Stacy served as editor for various equine publications in the Quarter Horse racing and Western performance horse industries. She currently works at the University of Arizona, where she is a public information officer covering health sciences news and research. She hopes to compete in eventing and jumping with her OTTB Nicky.

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