Canadian Researchers Focus on Racehorse Safety

Since the loss of Barbaro and Eight Belles, NBC's Roundtable on the horseracing industry at the 2008 Preakness Stakes, and the congressional hearing in June 2008, researchers are highlighting their efforts to improve racehorse safety and Canadian scientists are not to be left out.

"The Ontario Veterinary College's Comparative Orthopaedic Research Laboratory has a well-established and comprehensive research program that has actively been working on improving racehorse safety," said lead researcher Antonio Cruz, DVM, MVM, MSc, DrMedVet, Dipl. ACVS, ECVS.

Cruz's group has multiple projects ongoing including:
  • Investigating the mechanisms of disease in osteoarthritis and bone failure in the fetlock joint and stifle (i.e., the femorotibial joint);
  • Studying the relationship between subchondral bone and articular cartilage to evaluate whether osteoarthritis develops in conjunction with or separately from cartilage damage;
  • Developing stall-side tests for the early diagnosis of irreversible joint disease;
  • Assessing bone density (utilizing the speed of waves of sound) and biomarkers in cannon bones and how these factors relate to exercise intensity;
  • Examining condylar fractures and cannon bone microdamage to identify the changes that occur in the bone that predisposes the condyles to fractures;
  • Developing a new imaging tool (similar to a computed tomography scan) to identify horses at-risk for a fracture or catastrophic injury, and;
  • Studying the epidemiology of injuries that occur during racing or training.

This latter aspect of the laboratory's efforts has recently been highlighted in a special report on Catastrophic Injuries in Thoroughbred Racehorses. The study was published in the American Journal of Veterinary Research in December 2007.

Cruz and colleagues reported that the incidence of musculoskeletal injuries in Ontario in 2004 and 2005 was 1.05/1,000 racing starts and 0.39/1,000 training workouts for Thoroughbreds. In Standardbreds, there were 0.13 fatalities in Ontario per 1,000 starts (racing and training).

"This research and the unpublished data we have collected on severe musculoskeletal injuries in Standardbred racehorses is unique because it includes all injuries that occurred within 60 days of racing and all musculoskeletal injuries that occurred during either racing or training," explained Cruz. "Our data likely provides a more realistic indication of exactly how commonly these injuries occur in both breeds of racehorse."

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.