Helmets, Horse Deaths to Get Further Study in Kentucky

The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, currently studying its controversial helmet rule for jockeys, indicated May 17 it doesn't expect to have a resolution anytime soon.

Kentucky is the only state that requires use of a specific helmet--the "Lexington" helmet. Authority members Tom Ludt and Kerry Cauthen continue to meet with jockeys and other officials to gather information, but Ludt said it's one of those issues that won't be easy to resolve.

"It's quite a challenge," Ludt said. "We have people on extreme sides of this. There is no manufacturer in the world that could make a helmet good enough to make everybody happy in Kentucky."

Ludt said there has been progress on one front: communication. He said the authority and jockeys now have a dialogue, which is helping to at least move toward a resolution.

In other states, jockeys can choose which safety helmet they want to wear. Kentucky requires helmets to conform with the American Society of Testing Materials. Some riders say the helmets don't fit properly, while others support their use.

In February, the KHRA temporarily suspended the helmet rule but soon after realized any change would require statutory action.

In other action at its May 17 meeting, the KHRA asked state veterinarian Dr. Mitzi Fisher to compile information from other states on necropsies. Authority vice chairwoman Connie Whitfield suggested guidelines should be developed on how to handle horses that die on the racetrack.

"Among the things I would like to see done are autopsies, and that urine and blood samples be taken," said Whitfield, who now chairs the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council. "We need to interview jockeys and trainers. We need to come up with a system all are comfortable with.

Fisher said most states have no set protocol on necropsies, because in most cases the cause of the injury is obvious. California, meanwhile, has a program whereby necropsies are performed in each case.

Darrell Haire, national membership representative for the Jockeys' Guild, volunteered to work with Fisher. He said the research done through necropsies has been helpful in finding out about horses and why they break down.

Whitfield said she believes the issue is somewhat connected to equine medication, which falls under the drug council. The panel hasn't met since last October.