Churchill Downs Incorporated has announced a series of new rules and policies designed to enhance the safety and welfare of jockeys and horses. The measures will be in place at Churchill Downs racetrack in advance of the this year's Kentucky Derby and will include standardized third-party testing of track surfaces and comprehensive testing of all winning horses for more than 100 prohibited drugs.
The safety initiatives will be implemented at Churchill Downs effective opening day of its 2009 Spring Meet on Saturday, April 25, and will be phased in at all other company racetracks--Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill.; Calder Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla.; and Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots in New Orleans--by the start of their respective 2010 race meets.
In development for nearly a year, the "Safety from Start to Finish" initiative is designed to incorporate new health and wellness measures, as well as long-standing safety policies and standards, under a single formalized initiative to serve as a blueprint for all CDI facilities.
The key safety initiatives that will be in place at Churchill Downs prior to Kentucky Derby 135 are as follows:
- Independent, standardized third-party testing and monitoring of track surfaces;
- "Supertesting" of all winning horses for more than 100 performance-enhancing drugs;
- Age restrictions requiring Thoroughbreds to be at least 24 calendar months of age before becoming eligible to race;
- The freezing and storage of equine blood and urine samples to allow for retrospective testing;
- The banning of steroids;
- Limits on the number of horses allowed to compete in certain races;
- The prohibition of "milkshaking," which results in excessive levels of total carbon dioxide in Thoroughbred racehorses;
- Prohibiting the transport of horses from CDI facilities for slaughter;
- The banning of unsafe horseshoes, including front shoe toe grabs longer than two millimeters;
- The use of low-impact riding whips with limited usage rules;
- The presence of on-site medical personnel, equipment, and state-of-the-art equine ambulances;
- Immediate online access to jockey medical histories for emergency medical personnel;
- $1 million in catastrophic injury insurance coverage for jockeys;
- Mandatory and uniform reporting of equine injuries to the Equine Injury Database System, thereby assisting in the compilation of statistics and trends to improve safety conditions around the country;
- A professionally designed and installed safety rail on the inside of the dirt course;
- Mandatory usage by all jockeys, exercise riders, and other on-track personnel of safety vests and safety helmets that meet internationally acknowledged quality standards;
- 3/8-inch foam padding on all parts of the starting gates;
- Significant financial support for equine retirement programs;
- Inspection of all horses by regulatory veterinarians prior to and following all races;
- Review of security procedures around barns and other racetrack backstretch areas;
- Continued maintenance of protocols for the treatment of horses that have been injured during racing or training, to ensure the most humane treatment possible; and
- Mandatory, independent, and complete necropsies of any horse that dies as a result of an injury sustained while racing or training at Churchill Downs.
"Based on historical records, we believe there has only been one catastrophic injury among the 1,710 horses that have competed during the 134 runnings of the Kentucky Derby, but even one is too many," said Bob Evans, president and chief executive officer of Churchill Downs Incorporated. "While the Kentucky Derby is the world's most important horse race, we want to implement changes that will improve safety not just for that race, but for all of the jockeys and horses that compete annually in the over 4,000 races conducted at our four racetracks.
"Over the past year, a great deal of important work and study has occurred on safety issues in our industry," Evans continued, noting that the announcement was the result of cooperation among many different entities within the industry, including The Jockey Club, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, Breeders' Cup, Keeneland Race Course, NTRA, American Association of Equine Practitioners, and horsemen.
"We are optimistic about the NTRA's new Safety and Integrity Alliance program. We hope the NTRA is able to certify all three Triple Crown tracks prior to this year's Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes races."
Additional detail on some of the key safety rules and policies announced March 2:
Track surface testing
CDI is expanding its existing testing of track surfaces to implement regular, standardized, third-party testing of its racetracks, including a battery of laboratory tests of track surfaces and ground-penetrating radar to ensure track consistency and integrity. CDI has secured the services of the world's top track surface researcher, Dr. Mick Peterson, a University of Maine professor of mechanical engineering who has developed an innovative robotic hoof device that duplicates the force and speed of a horse as it runs on a racetrack. Data generated by these and other tests will help to ensure that CDI tracks maintain safe and consistent track surfaces for both horses and jockeys. The company is also a founding member of and financial contributor to the new Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, which is identifying safe practices for the future by facilitating and advocating measurements of track safety effectiveness.
Drug "supertesting" of all winning horses
The winning horse in every race at CDI tracks will undergo a battery of "supertests" recommended by the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA). The TOBA "supertests" screen for more than 100 drugs--far more than in standard testing. This will not only ensure that Thoroughbreds in competition receive safe and warranted medications, but it also increases the integrity of the outcome of wagering on each race.
For the purposes of competition, all Thoroughbreds foaled in the Northern Hemisphere--regardless of their actual month and day of birth--turn one year older on Jan. 1. CDI is instituting a policy by which Thoroughbreds must be at least 24 calendar months old before they are permitted to race, in the hopes of promoting healthy and strong equine athletes that can enjoy long, competitive careers. Previously, Thoroughbreds competing at CDI tracks were allowed to race at the official age of 2 years, regardless of their actual date of birth.
Sample freezing for retrospective testing
CDI will begin the practice of storing frozen blood and urine samples of racehorses to allow for retrospective testing in the event of suspicious circumstances, an initiative currently being funded by The Jockey Club. The company will work with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to adopt the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) program for frozen storage and retrospective "supertesting" as necessary.
CDI has adopted the Association of Racing Commissioners International Model Rule on androgenic anabolic steroids that was based on RMTC recommendations. This rule effectively eliminates the use of all anabolic steroids in the training and racing of Thoroughbreds.
Limits on number of horses allowed to compete in certain races
CDI has extensively examined the issue of "field size," or the number of horses permitted to compete in any given race. The studies have taken into account the age of the horses competing, the length of the race, the surface on which the race is conducted, the position of the starting gate relative to the track's first turn, the width of the racetrack, the radius of the racetrack's turns, and other dimensional attributes. For many years, CDI tracks have limited the field size of certain races based on these variables. After further review, Churchill Downs will now limit field sizes in additional races, including 4 ½-furlong dirt races. Those races will now be limited to 10 starters instead of the previous maximum of 12. This rule, implemented due to the short run into the first turn, will be in effect as of the 2009 Spring Meet at Churchill Downs. In addition, Arlington Park and its horsemen will consider starting 4 ½-furlong races at the 5-furlong marker and finishing them at the 1/16-mile pole to allow for a longer run into the first turn.
After thorough analysis and consultations with owners, trainers, and jockeys, the field size for the Kentucky Derby will remain unchanged at a maximum of 20 horses, a limit that was put in place after 23 horses competed in the 1974 Kentucky Derby and 21 horses competed in 1981.
"We are focused on action that we know will make a difference," Evans said. "Our priority remains on the enhancement and standardization of practices that will have a daily impact on the health and safety of the maximum number of horses and jockeys that compete at Churchill Downs Incorporated tracks."
"As in all sports, there's an inherent safety risk involved in horse racing," said Jim Gates, general manager of Churchill Downs racetrack and the leader of the "Safety from Start to Finish" initiative. "We firmly believe that the measures and policies we've put in place will help to minimize that risk and better ensure the safety and well-being of our athletes. We're passionate about this commitment, and we'll continue, as an industry leader, to do what's right to reduce injuries and improve the integrity of the sport."
The safety initiatives announced as part of "Safety from Start to Finish" will continue to evolve. "There are a number of other important safety initiatives that are still in development, and that we hope to launch later this year," Gates said. Those include:
- Out-of competition drug testing;
- The introduction of safety reins;
- Jockey health and wellness programs;
- Uniform licensing of those involved in racing; and
- Ongoing safety and welfare education and training of those involved in racing.
"We also have recognized that we need to do a better job of communicating to our fans and the general public what our industry has done and is doing to maximize safety," Gates added. "To that end, we have created an interactive, educational 'Safety Center' that is currently on display at Churchill Downs' Gate 17. The Center utilizes audio, video and actual material and equipment samples to educate racetrack guests about the numerous policies and procedures in place to ensure the safety, security and well-being of horses, riders, and on-track personnel. The Centers may be added at other CDI racetracks at a future date."
The final cost of the safety measures has not been finalized, but is expected to exceed $1 million annually--a figure that is in addition to the millions already spent annually on safety at CDI tracks.
For more information about the Churchill Downs "Safety from Start to Finish" initiative, please visit the Safety Center at Gate 17 at Churchill Downs racetrack, or log on to churchilldowns.com/safety.
Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.