Regulatory vet conference addresses pre-race exams, sharing of information

Posted: June 26, 2018

More than 60 people attended the inaugural Regulatory/Official Veterinary Continuing Education conference presented by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance and the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium.

The two-day event, which began June 25, is designed to facilitate the sharing of ideas among veterinarians and officials in racing jurisdictions. Held at Keeneland, the conference attracted attendees who represent more than 100 racetracks worldwide.

The program for the first day focused on pre-race examinations, including the importance of documentation. The afternoon was highlighted by hands-on field demonstrations using active racehorses stabled at Keeneland.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Equine Medical Director, kicked off the program with a stage-setting presentation titled “What Do Regulatory Veterinarians Need to Know?” A former track vet who was one of the architects of The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database, Scollay urged practitioners to be mindful of their core values while dealing with daily demands.

A similar message was given by event co-organizer Dr. Dionne Benson, Executive Director and Chief Operating Officer of the RMTC, who discussed pre-race exams around North America: “We are the only ones that advocate strictly for the horse, without having to answer to a trainer or an owner.”

The various regulations and processes for race-day exams were further explored during a panel discussion moderated by Dr. Larry Bramlage of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. Scollay, Dr. Tim Grande of the California Horse Racing Board, Dr. Michael Hardy of the Indiana Horse Racing Commission, and Dr. Scott Hay of the Florida-based practice Teigland, Franklin & Brokken detailed what they look for when inspecting a horse entered to run and described scenarios that could result in a vet scratch.

During a subsequent panel on “Implementing InCompass in the Field,” Hardy reinforced that information observed in pre-race inspections is most useful when it’s available for reference across jurisdictions and for future exams. The IHRC and racetrack vet demonstrated how he uses The Jockey Club InCompass RTO system to determine whether an issue he notes is new or pre-existing.

Benson later discussed “Medication Regulation at the Racetrack” and explained the science behind withdrawal times and threshold testing levels for permissible medications. Steve Koch, executive director of the Safety and Integrity Alliance and event co-organizer, closed out the program with “New Model Rules Affecting the Regulatory Veterinarian,” a review of relevant regulations recently adopted by the Association of Racing Commissioners International.

An emphasis on applying best practices and achieving best outcomes marked the second day of the conference. Topics included what should and should not result in a scratch at the starting gate, as well as managing relationships with trainers and jockeys.

The ramifications of placing certain at-risk horses on the official Veterinarian’s List analyzed “void claim” rules that nullifies a claim in instances where horses are vet listed post-race. Dr. Jeff Blea, a practitioner based in California, said: “(Voided-claim rules) have changed the culture of the claiming game. It has made a huge impact as far as horse welfare.”

“Feedback on this first-of-its-kind event has been completely positive and all attendees seem firm that this must become a regular event,” Koch said. “Our mission coming into this week was to support the vets in the field by helping to develop their network and access to resources. Clearly this was achieved and the horses are the ultimate beneficiaries.”

Among the attendees was Dr. Scott Palmer, Equine Medical Director for the New York State Gaming Commission.

“I thought it was a very good conference,” Palmer said. “The location was outstanding and Keeneland is a wonderful host site. The trainer participation—having the non-disclosure agreements so we were able to go in their barns and look at their horses—was great. This job has become a profession over the years and, like any job, there are certain skill sets required to be effective in it; I thought it was very interesting to hear what other people thought are most important.”

(Conference photo courtesy NTRA)