New York adopts additional equine safety procedures

Posted: Aug. 21, 2017

New York Thoroughbred industry organizations, in the wake of recent catastrophic injuries to racehorses in racing and training, Aug. 21 announced additional safety protocols at Saratoga Race Course.

The New York Racing Association, New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and New York State Gaming Commission said there will be increased regulatory veterinary presence during training hours, state-of-the-art monitoring of horses, and comprehensive trainer education to share scientific findings of research into the types of injuries that occur at New York racetracks as well as identify risk and protective factors to help prevent injuries.

“Our goal is to reduce the number of racehorse deaths and injuries to zero, and we have taken many productive steps toward reaching that goal over the past four years,” New York Equine Medical Director Dr. Scott Palmer said. “However, our work is never done and there will always be challenges that require reexamination and recalibration to effectively protect horses and their riders.

“The commission, as it does with every equine fatality on the grounds of a track in New York State, is actively investigating the circumstances of each incident at Saratoga Race Course. This also includes close scrutiny of the track surfaces, exercise history and past performances, individual horse risk factors, and more.

“NYRA and NYTHA are important partners in this effort. Pending the findings of this investigation, we will do whatever is necessary to prevent such injuries in the future. In the meantime, there are several proactive steps we can implement to make the sport safer for all involved.”

“Where safety is concerned, we need to examine every possibility, including a mandate to open all racing surfaces earlier than we have in the past before the start of the race meet,” said NYTHA President Rick Violette Jr., who also sits on the NYRA Board of Directors. “We are all for insisting that everyone involved in New York racing, from the trainers and the owners to the attending and regulatory veterinarians to racetrack management to the state regulators, be held to the highest standards.

“We all have to do our jobs to the best of our abilities. The litany of programs and initiatives and safety measures are only impressive when they work.”

The following will be done in addition to existing equine health and welfare measures already in place in New York; for instance, NYRA already employs extensive real-time monitoring of its racing surfaces. Officials said that as applicable, the protocols will be in place at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park and Finger Lakes Gaming and Racing as well.

The NYSGC has stationed an additional regulatory veterinarian on the grounds of Saratoga during training hours. The doubling of efforts by the commission ensures that a veterinary presence exists to view horses during busy training hours and confirm that any incidents are appropriately documented and managed.

Regulatory veterinarians are using reports provided by InCompass Solutions software through The Jockey Club to examine horses considered to be at an increased risk for injury. A similar process has been implemented at Del Mar in California to identify horses that may be at risk. The reports will include horses stabled at Saratoga and Belmont that may be vulnerable to injury based upon extensive research findings.

New York State is one of only a few jurisdictions in North America that require continuing education as a condition of licensure for trainers, and NYTHA has fully supported the effort. A NYSGC rule requires that all Thoroughbred trainers, including assistant and private trainers, obtain continuing education of at least four hours each year in equine health, welfare and safety as well as small business, ethical and human resource topics.

The next continuing education session is scheduled for Aug. 22 at Saratoga, where Palmer and two additional faculty members from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine will cover findings of the Thoroughbred Post-Mortem Examination Program; how to use risk and protective factors to prevent injuries; and using fetlock CT to assess promixal sesamoid bone fracture risk. The presentation will be recorded and made available to the public after the event.

Officials also said NYSGC staff will seek to amend a rule to require that all claimed horses report to the test barn following a race for examination by a commission veterinarian. The amendment would require a horse that shows American Association of Equine Practitioners Grade 2 or greater lameness be placed on the vet’s list and the claim would be voidable at the discretion of the claimant.

“There is no issue more important to NYRA than the safety of our equine and human athletes,” NYRA Safety Steward Hugh Gallagher said. “That is why NYRA has implemented extensive reforms and made significant investments since 2013 to improve track surface conditions, upgrade equipment, provide vets with more authority to monitor thoroughbred health, establish committees to oversee safety measures, and actively seek out advice and guidance from independent experts and scientists.

“As a result of these reforms, the number of catastrophic injuries during races occurring on NYRA tracks has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 2013. We remain focused on continuously improving the safety of our racing operations. To that end, we are exploring the possibility of opening the main track (at Saratoga) for training to horsemen earlier in the year.”

As for equine aftercare, the NYSGC and its partners Aug. 29 will discuss ongoing initiatives. The session will begin at 12:30 p.m. EDT at Empire State College in Saratoga Springs.

(Photo provided courtesy of NYTHA)