Following the recommendations The Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Safety Committee made regarding the elimination of steroids, ban of toe grabs, and changes in whip usage, chairman Stuart Janney, along with American Association of Equine Practitioners veterinarian Larry Bramlage, addressed numerous inquiries from the media during a June 17 conference call.
Part of what triggered the shower of questions was an introductory statement made by Janney to explain the reasoning behind the committee’s recommendations.
Not surprisingly, the comment that seemed to generate the most interest was Janney’s strong stance on the ban of steroids.
“Steroids have no place in a horse on race day,” he said. “While we recognize a treatment involving steroids can be appropriate for therapeutic purposes under veterinary care, we think racing, just like other sports, needs to present its athletes on race day steroid-free.”
When questioned if he thought Dec. 31, 2008, was a reasonable deadline to be able to implement the steroid ban on a national level, Janney seemed confident and hopeful that the timetable was realistic, though he acknowledged there were still some issues with steroid testing.
“The most prominent issue is that it’s very difficult to test (for steroids) effectively with urine,” he said. “It would be a vastly better system if we could use plasma, so there are tests underway in Florida to establish the appropriate threshold levels using plasma. Three of the four anabolic steroids occur naturally in horses, so we need to very carefully establish what a normal (threshold) level is for a horse because it varies from horse to horse.”
In regard to the elimination of toe grabs, Janney said, “We think going with a flat shoe on the front feet will eliminate trainers seeking an edge by seeking the latest traction device available."
Janney said after studying research surrounding the issue, the committee was convinced that non-flat shoes increased the trauma on a horse’s front legs and heightened the risk of injury.
“We believe all parties will be better served by flat shoes,” he said. “The horse will be safer, the trainer will not be forced to weigh improved traction with the risk of injury, and the bettor will not have to calculate the effects of different shoes with track conditions.”
In addressing a question about why horses only had restrictions with their front shoes versus hind shoes, Larry Bramlage explained that the majority of significant injuries are in a horse’s front fetlocks, which raises a higher level of concern.
“The data is in the front shoes, and it’s all in favor of the toe grabs increasing the stress on the limb principally because of the plow effect of the toe grab going into the ground, not so much the toe grab grabbing the ground to propel the horse forward,” said Bramlage. “In the hind shoes, the horse has some need of traction. We think that there is a level of practicality in the hind shoes as well, but we don’t have the data.”
Bramlage said the committee would generate additional information in the future as to traction devices on the hind limbs, but since horses that have no traction on hind limbs also get upper hind limb injuries, a different set of rules is needed for both sets of legs.
Janney also addressed the riding crop usage changes in his introductory statement, noting that the device has become both a humane and perception issue for the industry.
“We believe going to this padded and shorter riding crop, eliminating the over the shoulder stroke, and urging increased surveillance by stewards and vets will be welcomed by jockeys, most trainers, and the public,” he said.
Janney added that both the elimination of toe grabs and change in the whip usage would be implemented via house rules in the various racing jurisdictions. Since most of the major racing associations had already publicly endorsed the two rules, he didn’t foresee problems with being able to quickly apply them ton a national level.
Going to a flat shoe will vastly simplify being able to identify if a horse is wearing the correct footwear and would make the rule easy to enforce, Janney continued. The riding crop rule will also be something simple for stewards to identify and readily enforce once it is written into the house rules.
When considering all three of the model rules, Janney said public perception is a legitimate concern of The Jockey Club Thoroughbred Safety Committee.
“What this committee’s responsibility comes down to is not only taking the steps we believe necessary to safeguard the horse and the rider that’s on the horse, but to also create the conditions and practices within our industry that will allow it to grow and prosper and be attractive to the casual fan. What we’re looking for are solutions and recommendations that meet those two standards. And we think the ones we’re suggesting today do that.
“What happened in the Kentucky Derby (with the breakdown of Eight Belles) was a teaching moment,” he continued. “We’re not responsible for coming up with any definitive views for why Eight Belles broke down, but we are given the responsibility to take people’s concerns and provide the best possible solutions across the industry. This is a time when I think the industry is reflecting on where we should be going, and is amenable to working together to get to a better place.”