Leading international equine research revealed at 37th Asian Racing Conference


The latest equine veterinary research projects were unveiled during part two of the eighth plenary session of the 37th Asian Racing Conference in Seoul, with Dr Brian Stewart, the Hong Kong Jockey Club’s Head of Veterinary Regulation, Welfare and Biosecurity Policy chairing the session.

The development of a predictive model that can identify the ‘at-risk horse’ is a new and additional tool available to trainers, reported Dr Tim Parkin, Head of Equine Clinical Science at the University of Glasgow. Such a model assists trainers in making more informed decisions regarding their horse’s health.

According to Dr Parkin it was the result of twenty years of studies aimed at preventing fatal equine injuries both during racing and training. “While identifying the risk factors for catastrophic injuries was easy”, he explained, “identifying the ‘at-risk horse’ was significantly more difficult.

“The difficulty lay in the fact that only about 0.1% of horses running in races suffer fatalities, hence we were trying to improve on a very good ‘null’ model. That was why we were finding it so difficult to provide racing regulators with a better risk prediction. Hence changing the outcome variable was a much better option. The focus then shifted away from predicting fatalities to predicting horses with post-race-lameness or unacceptable performance, with those horses being about 5% of the racing population. This was significant as post-race-lameness is often the precursor to end-of-racing or fatal injuries.

“A lot of risk factors that could lead to post-race lameness or unacceptable performance had been identified, but we were looking at risk factors which reduced in prevalence at the same time that fatal injuries had reduced. Surface condition, gender, age of first start, horses changing trainers and race distance were some of the factors,” Dr Parkin said, but noted roughly 65 percent of the drop in fatalities were still unexplained. “This may have been due to that fact that we didn’t have access to veterinary data and we only had limited access to training data.

“There is a need for more data and for multiple data platforms. It is extremely rare that we are able to use veterinary data or the medical histories of the horses. Most racing jurisdictions collect racing and training injury outcomes, but few have veterinary records, medical histories and training outcomes.

“For the model to work it is all about communication. We need to be able to tell the vet what we know about each individual horse. There is also an opportunity to tell trainers which races he should enter the horse in and which horses should be retired. But more collaboration is needed and in turn it can transform how horses are handled on the race track and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities.”

In line with the discussions around the ‘at-risk’ horse, Professor Chris Whitton, Head of Equine Orthopaedic Research at the University of Melbourne, updated the delegates on the latest research done on the prevention of limb injuries. “Leg injuries are the most common cause of deaths at racetracks, often leading to injuries to the jockeys as well. The catastrophic injury rate in Australia is about 0.32 per start.”

This led to the creation of an Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program by the University of Melbourne. Prof Whitton explained that the often-used description of fractures caused by “a bad step” is a misnomer. “The actual cause is an undetected pre-existing injury, such as micro cracks, which in turn is compounded by training at high speed.”

Prof Whitton added that specialists still need to improve their ability to detect injuries in their most nascent stage. “The aim is to develop training, management and regulatory strategies in order to reduce catastrophic injuries, reduce career limiting musculoskeletal injuries and improve longevity and performance by racehorses.”

The session concluded with insight from Dr Hee Un Song, Manager of the Korea Racing Authority’s Equine Medical Center, focused on Korea’s current regulatory standards, recent issues encountered in veterinary regulation and the challenges faced by the KRA to address theses issues.

“Strong veterinary regulation is essential to conduct high quality racing and in its commitment to such regulation, the KRA is expanding its international activity to continually improve regulatory services,” said Dr Song.

“Currently there are a range of out-of-competition controls as well as pre-declaration and pre and post-raceday veterinary controls, which can lead to withdrawals from a race. This can be an emotive issue for owners and trainers. Post race, we test for lameness and/or bleeding episodes. We also have a 10-day-mediction rule, meaning horses have to be clear for at least 9 days from all injections.”

Despite such controls, Korea experienced an increase in lameness and catastrophic incidents. “In order to address these challenges the KRA have undertaken measures to improve their regulatory services through the adoption of international standards, the building of trust through strong and fair regulation, the improvement of equine welfare and the implementation of research and exchange programs.”

Issued on behalf of the Asian Racing Federation