Associations Team Up With Merial For Ulcer Screening

Some of our nation's most competitive racehorses participated in a unique ulcer screening program this year at the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Park. The Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association (KHBA) at the Derby, and the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Associ-ation (NYTHA) at Belmont each teamed up with pharmaceutical giant Merial to offer free screenings of horses for gastric ulcers.

A part of Merial's health education campaign, the screenings are designed to educate horsemen, owners, and trainers about the dangers of equine gastric ulcer syndrome (EGUS).

Marty Maline, executive director of the KHBA, said this program was successful last year at Derby time, and therefore was repeated this year. Jerry Johnson, DVM, a racetrack practitioner based in Lexington, Ky., was brought in by Merial for the screenings. Last year, 176 horses were scoped for trainers, including some of the top ones stabled at Churchill Downs for the spring meet. The 1999 screening showed that about 90% of the horses had ulcers. Approximately 65 horses were screened this year at Churchill -- an estimated 89% had ulcers.

This was also the second year the service has been offered at Belmont. James A. Orsini, DVM, Dipl. ACVS, performed the ulcer scoping at Belmont Park on 108 horses this year, 91% of which showed evidence of ulcers. Orsini is Associate Professor of Surgery in the Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center. He is unsure of why such a high percentage of racehorses have ulcers.

"Certainly from what I've seen, the horses at highest risk are the ones of which we have the greatest expectations -- the star athletes. They're on rigorous training programs at the peaks of their career areas," he said.

"We do know that feeding practices, training, trailering, competing, and even hospitalization all contribute to ulcer formation," he added. Prior to development and FDA approval of Merial's GastroGard, little was known about EGUS, due to limited access to diagnostic screening tools (endoscopes) and no effective treatment available for use during training.

Those trainers participating in the screenings at both racetracks were given a free month's supply of GastroGard, and some had amazing stories of improvement not only in performance, but in temperament around the barn. The affected and treated horses were screened again 28 days later.

Rick Hiles, president of the KHBA, said one filly last year in particular was about to be returned to the farm because of her unwillingness to train and her "sour" attitude. After finding gastric ulcers and being treated, she completely turned around. "The main thing was she loved to go to the track. She loved her job."

Frank Pipers, DVM, PhD, of Technical Services at Merial, organized the programs at Churchill Downs and Belmont. He explained that Merial is focusing on educating not only those involved with Thoroughbred racing, but also participants in the Hambletonian Standardbred races, various hunter/jumper circuits, and cutting horse events. There also are studies in progress on EGUS and its link to transportation of the horse, colic, and occurrence in foals of all breeds.

"We'd like to go to every segment of the horse population in which performance horses are employed," said Pipers.

-- Kimberly S. Graetz and Stephanie L. Church

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