'Healthy Discussion' at Racehorse Safety Summit

The second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit concluded March 18 with the 62 participants releasing action plans on how to improve various aspects of the Thoroughbred industry.

Some of the recommendations could prove difficult to execute, such as the call to coordinate all research regarding equine injuries and/or fatalities on all racing surfaces in all jurisdictions and publicize the results and the establishment of necropsy programs in all racing jurisdictions.

Indeed, some participants at the two-day summit, which was organized and underwritten by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and The Jockey Club, and hosted by Keeneland Association in Lexington, said there was considerable give and take during the discussions.

"In the last two days, there has been some really emotional, healthy discussion, but it has all been with mutual respect and trust," said Keeneland president Nick Nicholson. "Too often, in this day and time, we are not an industry that learns to work our way through problems with mutual respect. We can disagree without being disagreeable and there was a lot of that in the last two days. Through that process will come progress."

Many of the areas addressed during the summit had been initiated during the inaugural summit in October 2006. The topics included track surfaces; marketing of the racing product; catastrophic injuries; medication and laboratories; industry education; welfare of the Thoroughbred; and implementation and regulation.

See a release from the participants for the primary calls to action developed at the summit.

Alex Waldrop, president and chief executive officer of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, said, "The good news from this summit, (is) the fans can take comfort in the fact that this industry is continuing to deal realistically with the welfare and safety of our equine athletes. That"s a great story we can tell and we are addressing those issues in real ways."

Ed Bowen, president of Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, noted that when the summit convened, the attendees were not told what areas to consider and that many of the committees independently included medication in their discussions.

"It is really interesting how many committees came to medication as something they really wanted this group to address," Bowen said.

Bowen said a strategic plan will be developed and approved by the summit participants that will likely address how to fund some of the recommendations. He noted that the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation would be involved in providing some funding.

Rick Arthur, DVM, chief medical director for the California Horse Racing Board and a summit participant, said there would be an effort to evaluate drug testing in all equestrian sports in the U.S. "to see if there is a way we can take that $30 million that is being spent in horse racing each year on drug testing and spend it more effectively."

Mary Scollay, DVM, who has directed development of a national horse injury reporting system as a result of consensus reached at the October 2006 summit, reiterated that statistics gleaned from the initiative will only improve as more tracks participate.

During the March 17 open session, Scollay reported on the initial results of information compiled from injury and fatality reports from regulatory veterinarians at 42 racetracks. During the reporting period that began in June 2007, there were 244 fatalities from 123,890 starters on dirt, for a ratio of 1.96 per 1,000 starts. For the tracks with synthetic surfaces, the ratio of 58 fatalities from 29,744 starts was 1.95 per 1,000 starts ratio.

Scollay, the track veterinarian at Gulfstream Park and Calder Race Course, said she expects that 60 racetracks will participate this year. For example, she noted that the figures in her initial reporting period were received from all California tracks, excluding Del Mar, but that the track"s omission was for other reasons than a lack of willingness to cooperate.

Track participation in reporting injuries should increase because of a new program developed through The Jockey Club"s Incompass system that allows for user-friendly electronic reporting of injuries, rather than the cumbersome paper reporting system used so far.

The summit began with an open session the morning of March 17 and included presentations by 15 industry representatives as well as a panel discussion on racing surfaces featuring five track superintendents.

That was followed by closed discussions in breakout groups, with staff members from The Jockey Club serving as facilitators. Later in the day, participants received write-ups on the days" discussions and were asked to prioritize the issues in terms of importance. During "strategic planning sessions" Tuesday morning, each group focused on the issues and developed a primary objective, related objective, criteria for success, tasks, responsible parties, resources, and a timeline to address their issue.

(Originally published at BloodHorse.com.)

For more from the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit see:

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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