Injury Database Could Face Resistance

A new national racetrack injury database will have problems achieving widespread compliance without a large measure of anonymity and confidentiality, a Kentucky racetrack veterinarian said Sept. 15.

“I think there is going to be a ton of resistance” to reporting injuries as long as the horse’s name is included on the report, Dr. Foster Northrop said during a meeting of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s health and safety committee.

Northrup, a member of the KHRC and the health and safety committee, made the comments after the committee heard a plea from Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky equine medical director who is directing the database effort along with The Jockey Club, that the commission should take stronger action to urge compliance.

While reports of injuries and fatalities during the race programs are easily documented, injuries resulting from morning workouts and at other times are often not included in reports maintained by racetracks or racing commissions. Documenting and tracking such information is one of the main goals of the national database.

“It is time for us to start being more direct in our approach in tracking non-racing related injuries," Scollay said. “I would like the committee to recommend to the commission that licensed veterinarians be required to participate in the database.”

While racetrack practitioners would not welcome the additional paperwork required to comply with such a request, Northrop said trainers would likely provide the stiffest opposition to the database reporting. “Your biggest resistance will come from trainers, not vets,” Northrop said.

While the effectiveness of the database requires that the horse’s name be included on the report, Scollay said there would be a high level of confidentiality involved with the program. Others on the health and safety committee opined that it would also be difficult to achieve compliance for the reporting system from those involved with horses being trained at non-track training centers and farms.

Scollay reported that 64 racetracks, representing 75% of all flat racing, have agreed to participate in the reporting system. She said 17 are providing the reports during their current meets and that 29 tracks will be reporting the statistics during their upcoming meets.

The committee did not take any action on Scollay’s request. Dan Fick, executive director of The Jockey Club, said he and Scollay would schedule meetings with trainers and racetrack vets to educate them on the database and reporting mechanism and report those results at a later meeting.

The injury reporting database was one of a number of wide-ranging health and safety issues covered during the lengthy committee meeting.

The committee also discussed, and will continue to work on, revising rules to mandate safer and more humane riding crops (formerly known as whips) in Thoroughbred racing. Included in the effort will be the review of shorter crops and with more humane "poppers" (padded portion of the crop).

During the upcoming Keeneland fall meet, in two races per day jockeys will be equipped with crops that vary in length from 26 to 30 inches and in weights ranging from 6 ounces to 8 ounces. Rogers Beasley, director of racing at Keeneland, said the track will purchase 30 to 40 crops to be used during the experiment. He said the jockeys riding in the same two races each day would use the crops and that they would not be used during stakes races. Beasley said data from the experiment would be reported to the committee.

The effort toward new riding crops has the support of jockeys, said Jockeys’ Guild national manager Terry Meyocks.

Northrup told committee members that there is a growing problem with shock wave therapy being administered to horses without following the commission’s regulations. Under Kentucky rules, shock wave treatments are to be administered by veterinarians and reported to the commission vet. A horse is not permitted to run within 10 days of receiving a treatment, which Northrup said has a legitimate therapeutic benefit to horses but can also be used to mask pain.

“If you are doing it (conducting shock wave therapy) two days before a race, you are doing it for only one reason,” said Northrup. He said said administration of the therapy could also be abused on horses not stabled at racetracks and shipped in for races.

In official action, the committee recommended to the racing commission that it approve a rule banning one-handed whipping in Standardbred racing. Under the proposed rule, a Standardbred driver would be required to hold a rein in each hand and keep both hands in from of the body throughout a race. Previously, a driver could use one hand to hold both reins while using the other hand to whip the horse. The regulation also prohibits the use of a whip with a snapper, described as strands of material on the end of a whip.

Bill Napier, executive secretary of the Kentucky Harness Horsemen's Association, said he saw a driver hit a horse 25 times from the head of the stretch to the wire during the recent Red Mile meet. "It'll make you cringe," Napier said.

Drivers could be suspended for 10 to 30 days and fined $100 to $13,000 for a first offense under the proposed whip ban.

Also discussed were the use of unbreakable safety reins.