August 01, 2008


 Jockey Club, congressional hearing focus on the welfare of racehorses

Veterinarians speak in favor of uniform rules on drug use, more research on injury prevention

Posted July 15, 2008

Horse racing 

The Jockey Club's Thoroughbred Safety Committee offered several recommendations on ways to improve the health and welfare of racehorses days before a congressional subcommittee examined the subject at a June 19 hearing.

The breakdown and euthanasia of Eight Belles at this year's Kentucky Derby and the unsuccessful struggle to save Barbaro, the horse that won the 2006 Kentucky Derby but later broke a hind limb, are among the individual cases that prompted organization of the safety committee and the congressional hearing.

The Thoroughbred Safety Committee announced June 17 that it is recommending reforms in the use of whips, elimination of anabolic steroids in horse racing and training except in connection with illness or injury, and a ban on toe grabs and other traction devices on front horseshoes—devices that may increase the risk of injury.

The American Association of Equine Practitioners was among the organizations that voiced support for the recommendations, commenting specifically on the adoption of uniform medication rules by state racing authorities.

"Uniform medication rules combined with uniform testing procedures will ensure consistency in the administration of therapeutic medications and will bring tremendous benefit to the health and welfare of the racehorse," said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, AAEP president. "The AAEP strongly encourages the continued pursuit of uniformity by the racing industry and stands ready to contribute the expertise and perspective of racetrack practitioners to the dialogue."

The Thoroughbred Safety Committee continues investigating other issues, such as the safety of racing surfaces and the breeding and training of Thoroughbreds.

On June 19, a subcommittee of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on "Breeding, Drugs, and Breakdowns: The State of Thoroughbred Horseracing and the Welfare of the Thoroughbred." Members of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection have proposed that industry or government should create a national authority to oversee horse racing.

The subcommittee heard testimony from two panels of witnesses. The first panel consisted of horse owners, a trainer, and an ESPN analyst as well as representatives of the Jockey Club and California Horse Racing Board. One topic of discussion was breeding practices that emphasize speed over durability.

The second panel consisted of four veterinarians along with representatives of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and an organization that arranges adoptions for former racehorses.

Dr. Lawrence R. Soma, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about drugs in horse racing. He described Pennsylvania's program to regulate the use of anabolic steroids. He also discussed studies, many of which were published in the JAVMA or AJVR, that found that the drug furosemide improves performance in racehorses but does not prevent exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.

Dr. Susan M. Stover, a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, testified about racehorse injuries. The veterinary school has conducted necropsies of about 4,000 racehorses for the California Horse Racing Board's postmortem program. Musculoskeletal injuries are the main cause of death, but many catastrophic injuries are the acute manifestation of a chronic process.

"Musculoskeletal injuries are devastating to equine welfare and to the Thoroughbred racehorse industry," Dr. Stover said. "There are, however, great opportunities for intervention and injury prevention."

Dr. Wayne McIlwraith, a professor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine, spoke about research into factors that might predispose horses to catastrophic fractures and into methods for early detection of microdamage. In addition, he described work to provide an objective analysis of racetrack surfaces.

Dr. Mary C. Scollay, a longtime racetrack regulatory veterinarian who will soon become equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, described the extensive duties of regulatory veterinarians in evaluating and monitoring horse health on a race day.

"This protocol might be compared to an individual being accompanied through each workday by a risk assessment adviser and emergency care physician," she said.

Dr. Scollay also spoke about the on-track injury reporting program that she recently developed—and that 60 racetracks have adopted—to identify injury rates and improve injury prevention.