The third Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit ended June 29 in Lexington with a commitment to create a national rider injury database, something that Keeneland president and CEO Nick Nicholson said was his No. 1 priority going into the meeting.
“I think we need it, and I was going to be very disappointed if we didn’t get (an agreement to pursue) it,” said Nicholson, whose track has hosted all three of the summit’s editions. “Personally, I think our No. 1 objective should be to prevent injuries to people, so we’ve got to track how and where they are getting hurt. Our No. 2 priority is the safety of the horses, and it all goes together. If you provide safer racing facilities for horses, one of the consequences of a safer racing environment for horses is fewer injuries to people.”
The national Equine Injury Database is up and running, and the latest information provided by that effort was presented at the summit. According to Dr. Mick Peterson, who was the Racing Equipment and Safety group’s leader, the approach to developing the Rider Injury Database will be similar to that used in the creation of the Equine Injury Database.
“Because of all the technical issues and privacy concerns, setting up a rider injury database is quite a large undertaking,” Peterson said. “We’ll roll it out as we begin to understand the issues at each stage. What I think is the process that will likely will occur is that we will find a few tracks that already have a proccess (to track rider injuries) in place, we’ll adopt their methods, and then we’ll expand it outward. Think about how the Equine Injury Database evolved. It started out with paper forms being faxed in to one person who typed the information into an Excel spreadsheet and now it’s an online form with a tablet computer. I think we are going to see the same sort of progression with the Rider Injury Database.”
The injuries to jockeys and exercise riders at racetracks probably will be the first to be tracked, but the effort likely will be expanded to include data about other racetrack workers and people who ride and care for horses at training centers.
“We’re very excited about this, and we’re going to take it as far as we can as fast as we can,” Nicholson said.
The information collected, according to the Keeneland executive, eventually will be used in conjunction with the Equibase database and the Equine Injury database to better and more rapidly identify safety problems.
“The ultimate goal is to improve our ability to ‘rifle shot’ issues,” he said. “We will be able to pinpoint things like do not start a race this way and look out for horses that have the following criteria. It will make us wiser predictors so we can prevent injuries.”
In addition, Nicholson said the combined data will allow racetrack officials to more accurately evaluate the strategies used to prevent injuries, whether they are accomplishing their goals or making matters worse.
Racing Equipment and Safety was one of four groups that worked to identify objectives to improve welfare and safety during the summit. The others were Racetrack Environment and Training Practices; Education, Licensing, and Continuing Education; and Transitioning Thoroughbreds to Second Careers. The objectives reported by summit officials following the meeting included the following:
* Creation of a liaison position at each racetrack to coordinate aftercare of retired racehorses.
* Formalization of reciprocity of veterinarians’, stewards’ and starters’ lists on a national basis.
* Implementation of advanced safety equipment, including starting gates and safety rails, on a phased basis, depending on data.
* Development of a comprehensive database of track maintenance, training, and veterinary records that could be integrated with existing databases pertaining to human and equine safety.
* Creation of veterinary guidelines, in conjunction with the American Association of Equine Practitioners, to determine potential and appropriate second careers for racehorses based on physical condition.
* Establishment of a mechanism to encourage continuing education for people working with Thoroughbreds, including trainers, grooms, farriers, and jockeys, to improve horsemanship and as a means to accreditation.
“I think we accomplished what we set out to do, which was to bring a cross-section of experts together to continue the momentum of past summits and to reach out for new and fresh ideas,” said Ed Bowen, president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation.
The foundation and The Jockey Club coordinated and underwrote the summit. Among the 68 participants were trainers, breeders, owners, veterinarians, and racing executives.
“Coming into this third summit, I thought it was very important for us not to be complacent, an we had some real successes because the participants rose to the occasion and challenged themselves to reach out even further,” Nicholson said. “Safety is (an ongoing) process. There is no final victory. We must always be fighting for improvements and innovations that will make our sport safer for all concerned.”