Summit on Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse

Dateline: Lexington, KY

As Railbird noted yesterday, this week’s Blood-Horse reports on the proceedings of the second Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held in Lexington earlier this week. The summit was coordinated and underwritten by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and the Jockey Club, and hosted by the Keeneland Association. There were a number of presentations and sessions open to the public, but unfortunately, my trip to Lexington comes a few days too late for me to have been able to attend.

The Blood-Horse reports that a number of laudable proposals were made and supported; not included were the details of how these proposals would be carried out, which is the part I’m really interested in. Color me cynical: it’s easy to get together and talk about what the sport needs. It’s a lot harder to get all the various constituencies to commit to taking action and putting self-interest aside. This is in no way meant to demean the work of the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which seems to me to be a group that’s willing to dig in and do the hard work that’s required. And perhaps the press release included these details; not having received it, I can’t say for sure.

A few tidbits from The Blood-Horse’s report:

–A proposal to adopt the motto, “The welfare and safety of the horse should be the guiding principle in the decision-making process for all segments of the horse racing industry.” Excellent idea. Adoption by whom? The NTRA? Owners? Breeders? Stables?

–A proposal to coordinate all research regarding equine injuries and/or fatalities on all racing surfaces in all jurisdictions and publicize the results. Again, an excellent idea, and remarkably comprehensive: all research, all surfaces, all jurisdictions. Again, how do we enact it? How we get all tracks across the country to buy into and fund this proposal? Maybe our new commissioner will have some ideas?

–A proposal to create a research and development model for all racing surfaces. Hear, hear. And let’s get the folks who manufacture and profit from artificial surfaces out of the center of this conversation, so that there’s no appearance of conflict of interest. Let’s get independent, reliable voices leading this conversation, not the tracks or manufacturers who stand to make money from artificial surfaces. Sorry, Keeneland–I love you, I really do, but you can’t be a major voice here when you’re partners with the folks who make your tracks.

As someone who has been somewhat of a skeptic regarding the adoption of synthetic surfaces without the benefit of long-term research, I found this fascinating:

Dr. Mary Scollay, 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. (emphasis mine) (The Blood-Horse)

It’s important to note that this statistic is not comprehensive; as Scollay notes, these reports are from only 42 racetracks. Nonetheless, the statistically insignificant different in fatalities on synthetic and dirt surfaces must, and should, give pause to any track considering replacing dirt with an artificial surface. As I’ve often said, there are enough artificial surfaces in operation now that we should do long-term studies (five years minimum) on the various effects of synthetic surfaces before another track invests in replacing its dirt.

You can view the full news release from the Jockey Club here.

One thought on “Summit on Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse

  1. To me the most interesting piece of information is the data that proves what some have been saying all along that dirt and synthetic will have the same breakdown percentages. I just was surprised to see it this quickly. It will however, be interesting to see the long term comparison numbers 5, 7, and 10 years down the road once the track maintenance guys get past the learning curves to see whether it changes or remains the same.

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