Veterinarians said Dec. 7 the racing industry is making significant progress in identifying causes for equine injuries, and they urged patience despite persistent negative public perception in regard to racehorse breakdowns and welfare issues.
Veterinary issues and equine welfare were among the topics discussed during the University of Arizona Symposium on Racing & Gaming. High-profile catastrophic breakdowns within the last six years have led to many advances, but the industry sometimes has trouble getting that message across to the public.
“Horse welfare is good business for horse racing,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “The public expects us to do best by these horses.”
Dr. Scott Palmer, director of the New Jersey Equine Clinic, noted how the Equine Injury Database was launched about three years ago but just now is producing a critical mass of information. Still, there is a long way to go.
“I would encourage everyone to be very patient about it,” Palmer said.
The database maintained by The Jockey Club now contains about one million race starts and has produced about 30,000 injury reports. The number of catastrophic injuries remains at about two per 1,000 starts.
Much of the research being done is focused on identifying existing problems that can lead to more serious injuries in racehorses. Most injuries occur during training, not racing, Arthur said.
Information from pre-race examinations, necropsy reports, and veterinary records all figure in the profile of a racehorse. The objective, the vets said, is to improve prevention techniques.
“The more people understand about injuries and how they develop, we’ll have a better chance to keep horses healthy,” Arthur said.
Palmer said if there is a “silver lining” to the very public breakdowns of horses such as Barbaro and Eight Belles, it’s that horse racing from a safety standpoint is much better off today than it was five years ago. He suggested programs such as the injury database and National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance are necessary parts of the equation.
“I’ve spoken to some racetrack operators who don’t see the value of accreditation, which upsets me quite a bit,” Palmer said. “I think this is an education process.”
In a related welfare development, California is in the process of creating a system whereby vets could submit their records to regulators without violating client confidentiality. Attorney Greg Scroggins noted there are states that make exceptions for things such as the health and welfare of animals and the public.