During a meeting dominated by health and safety topics, the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority announced May 19 that Dr. Mary Scollay has been appointed to the new position of equine medical director.
Scollay, the senior veterinarian for Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course in Florida, will begin her duties in July under a contract between the KHRA and the University of Kentucky Research Foundation. Scollay has been in the public eye this year as a result of a uniform national online equine injury report she developed. The initial statistics from that project, sponsored by The Jockey Club and coordinated by TJC’s subsidiary InCompass Solutions, were released earlier this year and provided the first look at catastrophic injuries at tracks with synthetic surfaces and those with conventional dirt tracks.
According to a release announcing the appointment, Scollay will “serve as a consultant on equine medication and health issues and make recommendations on strategies to enhance equine safety and to prevent illicit activities.”
KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood said establishment of the position of equine medical director and collaborative effort with UK grew out of a recommendation in 2007 from the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council. She said Scollay’s duties will not overlap or interfere with those of the state veterinarian and that she will continue her role with the national reporting project.
Also at its regular monthly meeting, the authority approved formation of a committee to look into the health and safety of horses racing in the state. Robert Beck, the newly appointed authority chair, said the death of the filly Eight Belles following her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) had heightened interest in the subject of equine safety.
“It would be an effort to give us some guidelines on regulating racing in the state of Kentucky,” said Beck, who will appoint the committee members.
Beck said he did not foresee an overlap between the Kentucky committee and a national committee formed by The Jockey Club because “we are more focused on racing and they are more focused on breeding.” He noted there is no intention of the Kentucky committee to conduct its own research; it will base its decisions upon studies already being undertaken by other organizations.
Dell Hancock, a KHRA member who is also a member of The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee, noted the national organization has no regulatory authority but that regulators in Kentucky and other states could use it as a resource.
Connie Whitfield, the KHRA’s vice chair who also chairs the equine drug council, said health and welfare studies “will be meaningless unless it leads to reforms.”
In his report to the authority, state veterinarian Dr. Lafe Nichols provided statistics showing that in 2007 there were 45 catastrophic (fatal) injuries in races conducted at Kentucky tracks. He said that equated to a rate of 1.9 per 1,000 starts. He added there were 81 non-fatal injuries during the year.
Nichols said 23,309 horses started at Kentucky tracks in 2007, with 23% tested for medication violations. Of the 1,586 horses tested for the prohibited TCO2, so-called “milkshakes,” only one was positive.
Following the meeting, Underwood said the KHRA is investigating a report that trainer Steve Asmussen persuaded Churchill Downs officials to use an assistant starter he selected to help load Pyro into the starting gate in the May 3 Kentucky Derby. The incident was first reported May 17 by the Indian Charlie newsletter.
According to Indian Charlie, Churchill Downs’ starter and other racing officials rejected the request from Asmussen, but he was allowed to use his own assistant starter after a track official approved it.
Because stewards were not notified of the use of a specially-designated assistant starter for Pyro, chief state senior steward John Veitch said it would violate state regulations if it occurred. Pyro finished eighth in the Derby.