Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit

This morning the public session of the second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was held at Keeneland racecourse in Lexington, Ky., to focus on new approaches to solving industry issues. Approximately 100 people were in the sales pavilion to hear a series of speakers update progress on topics brought up at the first meeting in October 2006.

There were reports from the Welfare and Safety Committee on On-track injury reporting, shoeing and hoof care, education and licensing, race conditions, racing surfaces, and durability of racehorses.

Other topics that morning included non-catastrophic injuries, racing surfaces analysis, potential factors in on-track injuries, a track superintendent panel, and industry initiatives updates.

A common theme of the morning was looking at injuries and fatalities on dirt tracks versus synthetic surfaces. "Comparing fatality rates between dirt and synthetic, there was a 30% reduction in fatalities with synthetic surfaces," reported Mary Scollay, DVM, track veterinarian at Calder Race Course and Gulfstream Park in Florida.

Scollay has been active in creating an on-track injury reporting system through The Jockey Club using racetrack veterinarians.

"Horse goes on the shelf very frequently," Scollay added. "That's a huge economic impact to the industry. We need to get a better handle on what those injuries are and how to prevent/avert them or bring back to function better."

While the initial feeling that synthetic surfaces are safer for racehorses seems to be holding true, the track superintendent's panel made it clear there are still many things to learn about maintaining synthetic surfaces.

Mike Young, Keeneland' track superintendent who handles their Polytrack surface in Kentucky, said, "I'm a big believer in synthetic surfaces, and we're all learning. Everybody's talking about the difference in weather (for synthetic track maintenance), but any track changes in different weather. When you go to bed at night and wake up at 2 a.m. with it raining, you know you aren't going to have a sloppy track. And that's good for horses and the people taking care of the track."

Steve Wood, the track superintendent for Del Mar in California for 18 years, said last year they put in Polytrack. "Michael Young came out and stayed two-thirds of meet and I did what he told me (for track maintenance). Injuries were reduced significantly.

"The only issue was the morning surface was a lot tighter than in the afternoon," said Wood. "As soon as the surface warmed up … the hotter it got, the slower it got. It was a couple or three seconds off in the afternoon. We got a little flack, but it was so safe people accepted it a lot more."

More from the Welfare Summit will be reported in the coming week.

About the Author

Kimberly S. Brown

Kimberly S. Brown was the Publisher/Editor of The Horse: Your Guide To Equine Health Care from June 2008 to March 2010, and she served in various positions at Blood-Horse Publications since 1980.

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