Kentucky Attempting to Reduce Racehorse Fatalities

The veterinary staff of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) has added some additional protocols to its operations in an effort to cut down on the number of equine fatalities that occur at the commonwealth's tracks.

The changes came about after eight racing fatalities occurred during the month of May at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Ky. Overall, the track had 10 catastrophic injuries during the 38-day spring meet.

Upon noticing the May spike in fatalities, the equine medical staff undertook additional efforts to try to identify horses at greater risk for a serious injury prior to racing. Included in those protocols were adding an additional veterinarian to those who were watching the horses walk back to their barns following a race, providing veterinarians with "real-time" race replays on their iPads so they could immediately review a race to see if any horses appeared distressed during the event, and perusing the past performances of upcoming races farther in advance to look for signs of horses that might be at risk, KHRC executive director John Ward told commissioners during the regulatory body's Aug. 15 meeting.

Ward said the efforts worked, noting that the number of fatalities fell from eight in May to two in June. Statistics provided by the commission show that the number of fatalities at the state's tracks fell from 40 in 2007 to 27 in 2011.

Mary Scollay, DVM, the KHRC's equine medical director, said the staff also looked closely at the types of horses that died at Churchill in May and noticed a "commonality to that population of horses in that they had participated in racing at a specific venue before coming to Churchill."

Scollay said it was possible that the venue, which she declined to name, where the horses raced previously might not have had the same level of pre- and post-race scrutiny of its horse population that exists in Kentucky.

"The venue we felt was of interest, we are working with them and assisting them with their regulatory activities, like the pre-race exam process," Scollay said. "It's a small world and when they improve, we benefit, and when we improve, they benefit."

About the Author

Ron Mitchell/The Horse

Ron Mitchell is Online Managing Editor for The Blood-Horse magazine. A Lexington native, Mitchell joined The Blood-Horse after serving in editorial capacities with The Thoroughbred Record and Thoroughbred Times, specializing in business and auction aspects of the industry, and was editor-in-chief of the award-winning Horsemen’s Journal. As online managing editor, Mitchell works closely with The Blood-Horse news editor and other departments to make sure the website content is the most thorough and accurate source for all Thoroughbred news, results, videos, and data.

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