British Race Ahead at Ascot Research Conference

On March 5, 2003, leading researchers from the United Kingdom gathered at Ascot Racecourse to present practical aspects of their research findings to the British Thoroughbred industry. Arranged by the Veterinary Advisory Committee of the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) and sponsored by Ascot Racecourse, Transforming Racehorse Health in the 21st Century was the most recent in a series of such conferences, which have been held every five years since 1962.

A portion of all betting revenues in the United Kingdom are earmarked for research. In 2003, that percentage totals 1.7 million pounds (about $2.7 million).

The conference was divided into four groups of lectures: The heart and lungs of the equine athlete, protecting racehorse bones and tendons, preventing racehorse injuries, and solving diseases into the future. Speakers reported on such unusual topics as a comparison of heart size and racing performance. Horses with successful racing records were consistently found to have larger hearts.

A comparative study of fatal injuries in racehorses revealed that horses which began racing at the age of four were twice as likely to die of catastrophic injury than horses which began racing at age two.

New research in the U.K. shows that horses with exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage (EIPH) bleed twice as much from the left lung than the right. This discovery, which needs further investigation, was made during an Animal Health Trust study showing that roaring and gurgling, which increase stress on the lung, are unlikely to affect the amount of bleeding in EIPH-affected horses.

Breeding and equine disease research also are funded by the HBLB. Studies completed by Professor Twink Allen, BVSc, PhD, ScD, DESM, MRCVS, at the Equine Fertility Unit in Newmarket show that the uterine environment, coupled with the capacity and competence of the placenta, have lasting, marked effects on that mare’s progeny. Allen's study showed that a smaller foal from a mare in poor condition will grow and develop normally, but he will remain smaller than normal in adulthood.

On the other hand, a rich environment causes problems, too. Large foals exhibit unusual patterns of bone development and grow up to be ill-conformed, overweight adults, according to his research. Breeders were advised to avoid extremes of size and condition to ensure a normal, healthy foal.

Upon opening the conference, HBLB Chairman Robert Hughes said, "Racehorse welfare, and recognition of the value of equine research to racing, are clearly subjects that unite our industry."

About the Author

Fran Jurga

Fran Jurga is the publisher of Hoofcare & Lameness, The Journal of Equine Foot Science, based in Gloucester, Mass., and Hoofcare Online, an electronic newsletter accessible at Her work also includes promoting lameness-related research and information for practical use by farriers, veterinarians, and horse owners. Jurga authored Understanding The Equine Foot, published by Eclipse Press and available at or by calling 800/582-5604.

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