CHRB Renews Racing Injury Prevention Program

The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) April 11 approved an allocation of $2.85 million over the next three years for continuation of its racing equine injury prevention program with the University of California, Davis (UC Davis).

The board, meeting at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, gave unanimous approval to the program, which will cost the agency $950,000 per year.

The enhanced necropsy program, which began last year, is being conducted by the J.D. Wheat Orthopedic Research Laboratory at UC Davis. Despite its expense, it drew strong endorsements from CHRB executive director Kirk Breed and Rick Arthur, DVM, the board's equine medical director.

Breed noted that the CHRB is required by the state to identify the cause of equine deaths. For 20 years, he said, the board "kind of found the cause" by usually blaming track condition or the horse for taking a bad step. For the first time, he said the board is making inroads into the actual reasons horses break down.

"We have learned so much from this project about racetrack injuries," said Breed.

Arthur noted that in at least 85% of cases, horses suffering racetrack fatalities have preexisting conditions. By educating trainers and veterinarians about what to look for, many of these injuries have been avoided, he said.

"I think we're going to be down significantly this year," Arthur said, estimating that actual equine fatalities as the result of racing injuries should be around 200 for the current fiscal year. He said the UC Davis program is responsible for much of the improvement. He said there were 278 equine deaths in the previous year.

Breed also credited the racetracks for helping out by putting more effort than ever behind improving and maintaining their racing surfaces, and by funding more complete pre-race veterinary examinations of horses.

The racing injury prevention program uses specialized analytical examinations of necropsy specimens to determine the musculoskeletal changes leading to bone fractures. Over a 15-month period ending Oct. 1, 2012, the Davis program conducted 156 enhanced necropsies in cases attributable to musculoskeletal injuries and found preexisting conditions, or lesions, leading to breakdowns in 132 of them (85%), according to a CHRB staff report.

The CHRB developed a nine-task approach "designed to establish the reasons that particular fatal injury patterns develop and the steps that need to be taken to significantly reduce their occurrence," the report said.

The state's Office of Legal Services must approve the contract before it goes into effect.

Originally published on

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Jack Shinar

Jack Shinar is a frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine and is part of their Digital Media department.

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