Thoroughbred Safety Coalition seeks these 'immediate' reforms

November 19, 2019 12:36pm

At a press conference Tuesday within the Keeneland Library, representatives of a new Thoroughbred Safety Coalition pledged their unity and listed desired reforms with equine welfare in mind.

While this was “only Day 1,” as was often said, representatives of the Breeders’ Cup, Churchill Downs, Keeneland, NYRA, Del Mar and The Stronach Group will seek immediate changes at their respective venues, which account for 85% of graded stakes races in the United States.

“We will be implementing these reforms in every way possible going forward,” said Kevin Flanery, president of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Where permissible, house rules will be in place.”

Flanery used for example the addition of another training break at Churchill that didn’t require Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approval. The first 10 minutes after a break are also restricted to horses working.

The Stronach Group has also enacted a number of reforms at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields, both with and without stamping from the California Horse Racing Board.

Passing these reforms may become easier, too, if the Coalition grows, and members expect it to do so. Notably absent from Tuesday's announcement were The Jockey Club, which backs the Horseracing Integrity Act calling for a government-run doping authority, and National HBPA, a horsemen group.

“Some of us in the Coalition are obviously for the Horseracing Integrity Act. Some of us are openly against it,” said Drew Fleming, the recently named Breeders’ Cup president and CEO. “But again, everything’s on the table, including some form of federal legislation.

“But one important point I want to emphasize is the need for immediacy. We all know federal legislation can take some time, and that’s why we’re here today — to make immediate, impactful change.”

That all said, lays out the changes this new group is seeking…


Increase the withdrawal time for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to 48 hours pre-race: NSAIDs are frequently prescribed as anti-inflammatories for horses. While these drugs can help reduce a fever, or mitigate pain associated with an injury or chronic disease — as ibuprofen can with humans — they can also increase a horse’s ability to withstand pain, masking the potential severity of an underlying issue.

Prohibit concurrent usage of multiple NSAIDs: Administering two or more kinds of NSAIDs simultaneously (“stacking,” as it’s called) can similarly increase a horse’s ability to withstand pain and mask the potential severity of an underlying issue.

Increase the withdrawal time for corticosteroids to 14 days pre-race: Corticosteroids can be used to treat lameness in horses, alleviating pain and decreasing inflammation from arthritic joints, potentially improving performance and longevity. But these drugs can also mask the severity of pain a horse is suffering form, potentially cutting short the athlete’s necessary healing time.

Prohibit concurrent usage of multiple corticosteroids: “Stacking” corticosteroids can likewise conceal pain a horse may be experiencing and cause broader health risks, as well.

Prohibit the use of bisphosphonates on horses in training or racing, with a penalty of 12 months on the vets’ list if detected: Bisphosphonates are commonly and properly used to treat Navicular syndrome in older horses. Navicular syndrome causes lameness with the formation of bone spurs that wear against tissues surrounding the Navicular bone — causing pain deep in a horse’s foot. Bisphosphonates prevent the formation of these spurs by preventing the removal of diseased bone cells — which must occur before new bone can be laid down at that site. Young horses’ bones necessarily undergo remodeling as they train, building stronger bone.

While bone remodeling is a problem in Navicular syndrome, it’s also critical to the good health of normal young horses. Bisphosphonates impede bone remodeling, and their use in young horses presents an increased risk of bone failure or fracture. Like NSAIDs and corticosteroids, bisphosphonates can also mask pain, which can create further complexity for young horses. Horses may not perceive any pain associated with the bone weakened by bisphosphonate use.


Adopt “voided claim” rules to help protect unsound horses from continuing to compete and injuring themselves further: A “claiming race” is a race in which all of the horses entered are often for sale, and anyone who is licensed to own race horses may buy (or “claim”) a horse beforehand. Following the race, the ownership of the horse will transfer. The purpose of a voided claim rule is to prevent such a transfer of ownership if a horse is injured during the claiming race. Such a rule can also permit the purchaser to void a claim if a veterinarian determines the horse to be lame after the race.

Mandate direct daily reporting by vets to regulatory officials: Private veterinarians are currently not required to report directly to regulatory offices on their treatments or exams each day. Doing so will further help determine if a horse is fit to race and will provide a longer-term view of a horse’s overall health and welfare.

Perform random, out-of-competition testing on horses without limitation: Any horse in training to race should be considered a candidate for random testing designed to reveal the use of any substances that may put the horse’s welfare — as well as the integrity of a horse racing competition — at risk.

Adopt a uniform riding-crop rule, limiting crop use and defining crop specifications: The riding crop, regularly seen in the hands of almost every jockey during a race, can be used as a way to encourage horses or correct their direction (e.g., a tap to the shoulder signifies to a trained horse to move away from that tap, which can help avoid cutting off other horses, collisions, etc.).

Mandate necropsies on all fatally injured or ill horses: In the event of a fatality, post-mortem exams are essential in order to identify the role of any underlying injuries or health issues a horse may have been experiencing. All exams should be conducted by a board-certified pathologist. The results will be used to look for patterns and develop additional medical and operational reforms, as needed.


Create an electronic veterinary reporting system and centralized database: Enabling and mandating an efficient, reliable reporting system for vets, and collecting the reported information in a common database, will improve pre-race screening and integration with out-of-competition testing rules.

Collect racing surface data and merge information with existing databases: Correlating a new racing-surfaces database with preexisting injury databases, such as the Equine Injury Database, veterinary and pre-race examination databases, and veterinary lists, will give the industry a vastly improved capability to diagnose and address injury patterns.

Standardize protocols for ensuring jockey health and wellness: The Jockey Injury Database, created in 2012 by the Jockey’s Guild, collects and tracks information on injuries at race tracks — including where, when, and how an injury occurs, what type of equipment the rider was wearing at the time, and the nature and severity of the injury. Every track will gather this data and work with its local jockey colony to provide this information. Race tracks will have paramedics on call during race days, as well as adopt a concussion protocol in the event a rider comes off a mount during training or while racing.

Develop a proficiency system for exercise riders: Exercise riders play an important role in the health and wellbeing of every race horse. It will be standard for every exercise rider, across all race tracks, to have to undergo a training period with proficiency exams and periodic qualifications to continue working.

Create a safety steward position in all jurisdictions: Each jurisdiction has its own set of rules when it comes to regulations at the race track. A universal safety steward position would help bring cohesiveness to the industry. The safety steward will essentially function as a bridge between horsemen at a track and track personnel. The Steward will be responsible for the enforcement of any kind of safety rule at the track and can work to implement new ones.

Establish cross-functional safety committees at all participating race tracks: All track coalition members will not only work with individual safety stewards but maintain internal safety committees — composed of track management, horsemen, jockeys, veterinary representatives, and others — to ensure full scrutiny, and maximum effectiveness, for every single safety measure.


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