Kentucky Tries to Reduce Fatalities

New protocols adopted after eight fatalities in May.

The veterinary staff of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has added some additional protocols to its operations in an effort to cut down on the number of equine fatalities at the state's tracks.

The changes came about after eight racing fatalities occurred during the month of May at Churchill Downs. Overall, the track had 10 catastrophic injuries during the 38-day spring meet.

Upon noticing the May spike in fatalities, the equine medical staff undertook additional efforts to try to identify horses at greater risk for a serious injury prior to racing. Included in those protocols were adding an additional veterinarian to those who were watching the horses walk back to their barns following a race, providing vets with "real-time" race replays on their iPads so they could immediately review a race to see if any horses appeared distressed during the event, and perusing the past performances of upcoming races farther in advance to look for signs of horses that might be at risk, KHRC executive director John Ward told commissioners during the regulatory body’s Aug. 15 meeting.

Ward said the efforts worked, noting that the number of fatalities fell from eight in May to two in June. Statistics provided by the commission show the number of fatalities at the state’s tracks fell from 40 in 2007 to 27 in 2011.

Dr. Mary Scollay, KHRC equine medical director, said the staff also looked closely at the types of horses that died at Churchill in May and noticed a "commonality to that population of horses in that they had participated in racing at a specific venue before coming to Churchill."

Scollay said it was possible the venue (which she declined to name) where the horses raced previously might not have had the same level of pre- and post-race scrutiny of its horse population that exists in Kentucky.

"The venue we felt was of interest; we are working with them and assisting them with their regulatory activities, like the pre-race exam process," Scollay said. "It's a small world and when they improve, we benefit, and when we improve, they benefit."

In another regulatory matter discussed at the meeting, the commissioners directed KHRC legal counsel Susan Speckert to review possible disciplinary action against owners and trainers who violate the state's regulations on racing horses that have been claimed. Under the Kentucky rule, a claimed horse cannot race in another jurisdiction "prior to the close of entries" for the meet at which the horse was claimed.

Barbara Borden, the interim chief state steward, said the standard penalty for violating the claiming rule is a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 fine for the second offense. She noted that trainer George Leonard recently was fined a total $1,500 for running two horses in Indiana that had been claimed in Kentucky in violation of the rule. She said Leonard was told he would be violating the claiming rule but went ahead and ran the horses out of state.

"This is not much of a deterrent," Borden said of the current fine system.

Commissioner Frank L. Jones Jr. suggested violators of the claiming rule be suspended for the remainder of the year from the time of the infraction.

In other action at the meeting, commission chairman Bob Beck said Tom Ludt had resigned as a commissioner, and that a replacement would be appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear.

Ludt, chairman of the Breeders' Cup board and president of the Vinery breeding and racing operation, did not attend the Aug. 15 meeting. In an e-mail, Ludt said he had served on the commission for nine years and that his term expired July 1.

Generally, commissioners continue in their capacity upon expiration of a term until they are reappointed or are replaced.

"Time for new blood," Ludt said.