Racing Catastrophic Injuries Could Lead to Vet Policy Reform

Racing Catastrophic Injuries Could Lead to Vet Policy Reform

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt/The Horse

An incident Sept. 18 involving a filly who sustained a catastrophic injury during training at Hollywood Casino at Penn National Race Course, in Grantville, Pa., and was not euthanized for about an hour could spark policy reform among state racing commissions and racetracks.

The 4-year-old filly Langfurs Answer fractured her lower leg, stumbled, and fell to the track during training around 7:25 a.m., according to the Paulick Report. The exercise rider was thrown but uninjured. The filly's owner Enrique Alonso Jr., son of the filly's trainer Enrique Alonso, was watching near the gap of the racetrack and rushed to the horse after she fell. A horse ambulance arrived quickly but a veterinarian could not be found on the grounds to euthanize the filly.

"It is just a deplorable situation what that horse had to go through," Todd Mostoller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (HPBA), told The Blood-Horse. Mostoller said he witnessed the accident and estimated the horse was on the track for about 45 minutes before a veterinarian arrived.

"Anything beyond a couple of minutes of distress is unacceptable," he added.

He said racetrack management promised to take action after similar incidents in the past but without any results. The Paulick Report also reported on a May 2010 incident at Penn National involving an injured horse that was forced to walk back to the barn because the horse ambulance was unmanned.

"It is very frustrating for us," Mostoller said of the HBPA's position on both of these incidences. "We have been engaged in trying to get the commission to mandate there be a veterinarian during training hours. But we don't have any jurisdiction. It is not our property, and we are not the regulator."

The issue with not having an attending veterinarian on the grounds of racetracks, or even training centers, is not a new issue.

"There has already been some discussion, and I think after this incident it will be a topic of conversation in a number of circles," said Mary Scollay, DVM, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. "This is related to some of the issues the AAEP (American Association of Equine Practitioners) is addressing, some communication issues between the trainer and the veterinarian."

Most state commissions only require veterinarians to be on the grounds of a racetrack in connection with racing.

"We don't have a regulation that requires an attending veterinarian on the grounds (during training)," Scollay said. "Our presence is tied to racing and determined by the needs for the day. State vets are present for a portion of the training hours and are on-site until the last race has been run and the test barn operations are closed for the day."

Kentucky state veterinarians are on the grounds in the late morning because the state does require pre-race veterinary exams.

Whether or not a veterinarian is available during training hours is handled differently at each racetrack.

At Churchill Downs Inc.'s four tracks--Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky.; Arlington Park in Arlington Heights, Ill.; Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, La.; and Calder Casino & Race Course in Miami Gardens, Fla.--at least one private practitioner is on-call and on the grounds when the tracks are not racing live. Northern Kentucky's Turfway Park maintains a log at the stable gate guardhouse of all veterinarians on the grounds and their contact numbers. If an incident happens on Turfway's track, the outrider contacts the guardhouse and a veterinarian is contacted immediately.

In California, a similar incident to what happened at Penn National occurred at an off-site training center and moved the California Horse Racing Board to require a veterinarian be on the grounds during training hours at training centers.

"People believe a vet should be available during training and racing hours," said Scott Palmer, VMD, chairman of the AAEP's racing committee. "But there are glitches. Everyone agrees, but the question is who pays for it."

Cost of providing coverage is a factor at Penn National, but there are other logistical issues. For example, Penn National runs at night so few veterinarians are on the grounds early in the morning because Salix shots don't need to be given until later in the day. Training on Sunday mornings is another problem. Sunday training activity is typically so light that, again, few vets are on the grounds.

Palmer relayed a story from a racetrack manager who reportedly told the trainers at his facility to either be sure a veterinarian is on the grounds during training or he would shut down Sunday training.

"It seems to be Sunday morning is a crack in the system," Palmer said. "From a horse welfare standpoint, it is a no-brainer. If the rider got hurt, there is an ambulance present and a doctor. It seems we have two athletes--the rider and the horse--and you need to protect both of them."

The Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission is reportedly looking into the Penn National incident but what action it may take is unclear.

"The commission is looking into this unfortunate situation," said Samantha Krepps in an e-mailed statement; Krepps is press secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, which houses the racing commission. "The commission expects that prior to racing or training that any race facility do all that it can to ensure the safety of all participants, both horse and human."

Krepps did say the commission expects all racetracks to ensure the following:

  • Ready access to emergency veterinary care in the event of an accident or illness during training and racing hours;
  • Racetrack surface has been properly maintained, prepared and groomed for training or racing;
  • Outriders properly trained on equipment and procedures with working communications systems in order to appropriately respond to emergencies; and
  • Horse and human ambulances staffed by properly trained individuals and adequately equipped for emergencies.

"The commission is committed to preservation and development of the Thoroughbred racing industry and considers the racehorse to be at the core of the industry," she said.

Having a practicing veterinarian available during training hours is required by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's racetrack accreditation program, which is managed by the Safety and Integrity Alliance. This provision was created to fill the void in state regulations, according to the alliance's executive director Mike Ziegler.

"I can see with night racing and Salix not being given until the afternoons that this might not be on a racetrack's radar," Ziegler said. "But that is one of the best outcomes of the accreditation for racetracks. It makes management look at things that they might not have thought about. Often, this can be addressed by organizing your practitioners."

Ziegler said no racetracks in Pennsylvania have applied for accreditation.

"It is a tragedy and no one feels good about it," said Palmer. "I am confident that some changes will be made because of this that will be positive."

About the Author

Eric Mitchell

Eric Mitchell is a Editorial Director and Editor-in-Chief The Blood-Horse magazine.

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