By Lynne Snierson
Massachusetts became the first U.S. racing jurisdiction to endorse the International Group of Specialists Racing Veterinarians guidelines for horse welfare when the the state's Gaming Commission voted unanimously for the motion at a hearing May 29.
"To the best of my knowledge, Standardbred Canada is the only other North American racing authority to endorse a set of welfare guidelines. I believe we are the first racing regulatory authority in the United States to do so," the commission's director of racing, Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, said in an e-mail to BloodHorse.com.
The motion read in part that "the Massachusetts Gaming Commission is committed to creating and maintain a regulatory structure that promotes industry best practices in order to protect the integrity of racing and to safeguard the safety and welfare of its many participants."
MGC chairman Stephen Crosby said that the endorsement sends a message that the commission and the state are serious about equine welfare at the two live racing facilities in the state—Suffolk Downs and Plainridge Park Casino, which is a harness track. Commissioner Gayle Cameron added that recent reports of alleged racehorse abuse in the mainstream media has drawn attention to the issue.
The guidelines, outlined in a five-page report authored by veterinarians from the U.S., Australia and the United Kingdom and filed in April 1998, concentrate on 21 areas for humane treatment of racehorses. They are good horsemanship, training methods, shoeing, transport, rest periods, pregnant mares, surface conditions, steeplechase and hurdling, extreme weather, medication, racecourse stability, veterinary inspections, immaturity, surgical procedures, severe or recurrent clinical conditions, racing injuries, veterinary treatment, misuse of the whip, medication, retirement, and euthanasia.
Durenberger added that the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, the U.S. Trotting Association, and several regional breed organizations have sanctioned welfare guidelines published by the American Horse Council.
In other action, the MGC granted the request of Suffolk Downs to cancel live racing on Tuesdays for the entire month of June due to a shortage of horses. Suffolk, which opened May 3 for the meet that runs through Sept. 1, already had to cancel cards schedules for May 20 and May 27 for the same reason.
The MGC may consider rescheduling missed dates later in the season should more horses ship in to the track and be ready to run. Suffolk currently is running live three days per week.
By Lynne Snierson