Some of the recommendations could prove difficult to execute, such as the call to coordinate all research regarding equine injuries and/or fatalities on all racing surfaces in all jurisdictions and publicize the results and the establishment of necropsy programs in all racing jurisdictions.
Indeed, some participants at the two-day summit, which was organized and underwritten by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and The Jockey Club, and hosted by Keeneland Association in Lexington, said there was considerable give and take during the discussions.
“In the last two days, there has been some really emotional, healthy discussion, but it has all been with mutual respect and trust,” said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. “Too often, in this day and time, we are not an industry that learns to work our way through problems with mutual respect. We can disagree without being disagreeable and there was a lot of that in the last two days. Through that process will come progress.”
Many of the areas addressed during the summit had been initiated during the inaugural summit in October 2006. The topics included track surfaces; marketing of the racing product; catastrophic injuries; medication and laboratories; industry education; welfare of the Thoroughbred; and implementation and regulation.
The primary calls to action developed at the summit, according to a lengthy release from the summit participants, are:
--The adoption of the following: “The welfare and safety of the horse should be the guiding principle in the decision-making process for all segments of the horse racing industry.”
--Coordinate all research regarding equine injuries and/or fatalities on all racing surfaces in all jurisdictions and publicize the results
--Create a national media strategy focusing on industry health and safety initiatives
--Create a research and development model for all racing surfaces
--Continue to support research to improve the design and utilization of equipment used to maintain racetrack surfaces
--Establish a central laboratory for timely analysis of race track surface materials in order to monitor track stability and provide a ready resource for track superintendents
--Establish uniform reporting of daily maintenance of race track surfaces
--Promote the establishment of necropsy programs in all jurisdictions and support the training of qualified observers
--Promote the standardization of pre-race exam protocol
--Coordinate a blue-ribbon panel on equine racing fatalities
--Analyze the drug-testing infrastructure to identify cost efficiencies
--Develop a research and development program for drug testing in the U.S.
--Establish national equestrian drug-testing laboratory standards and accreditation protocol, including a research and development program
--Establish uniform regulation of medication usage in sales horses
--Create a program with incentives to attract and retain qualified regulatory veterinarians
--Expand the Groom Elite program on a national basis to provide training, certification and continuing education for all backstretch workers responsible for the care and welfare of race horses.
Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said, “The good news from this summit, (is) the fans can take comfort in the fact that this industry is continuing to deal realistically with the welfare and safety of our equine athletes. That’s a great story we can tell and we are addressing those issues in real ways.”
Ed Bowen, president of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, noted that when the summit convened, the attendees were not told what areas to consider and that many of the committees independently included medication in their discussions.
“It is really interesting how many committees came to medication as something they really wanted this group to address,” Bowen said.
Bowen said a strategic plan will be developed and approved by the summit participants that will likely address how to fund some of the recommendations. He noted that the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation would be involved in providing some funding.
Dr. Rick Arthur, chief medical director for the California Horse Racing Board and a summit participant, said there would be an effort to evaluate drug testing in all equestrian sports in the U.S. “to see if there is a way we can take that $30 million that is being spent in horse racing each year on drug testing and spend it more effectively.”
Dr. Mary Scollay, who has directed development of a national horse injury reporting system as a result of consensus reached at the October 2006 summit, reiterated that statistics gleaned from the initiative will only improve as more tracks participate.
During the March 17 open session, Scollay reported on the initial results of information compiled from injury and fatality reports from regulatory veterinarians at 42 racetracks. During the reporting period that began in June 2007, there were 244 fatalities from 123,890 starters on dirt, for a ratio of 1.96 per 1,000 starts. For the tracks with synthetic surfaces, the ratio of 58 fatalities from 29,744 starts was 1.95 per 1,000 starts ratio.
Scollay, the track veterinarian at Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, said she expects that 60 racetracks will participate this year. For example, she noted that the figures in her initial reporting period were received from all California tracks, excluding Del Mar, but that the track’s omission was for other reasons than a lack of willingness to cooperate.
Track participation in reporting injuries should increase because of a new program developed through The Jockey Club’s Incompass system that allows for user-friendly electronic reporting of injuries, rather than the cumbersome paper reporting system used so far.
The summit began with an open session the morning of March 17 and included presentations by 15 industry representatives as well as a panel discussion on racing surfaces featuring five track superintendents.
That was followed by closed discussions in breakout groups, with staff members from The Jockey Club serving as facilitators. Later in the day, participants received write-ups on the days’ discussions and were asked to prioritize the issues in terms of importance. During “strategic planning sessions” Tuesday morning, each group focused on the issues and developed a primary objective, related objective, criteria for success, tasks, responsible parties, resources, and a timeline to address their issue.
View the News Release from The Jockey Club about the second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit