07/24/2008 12:00AM

Database aims to find injury-prone horses


LEXINGTON, Ky. - A new nationwide database of equine racing injuries eventually could help researchers and veterinarians identify at-risk horses before they break down, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's equine medical director said Thursday.

That is a major goal of The Jockey Club's Equine Injury Database, which officially launched this week after a yearlong pilot program. So far, according to The Jockey Club, about 70 racetracks have signed on to collect racing injury information for the database, which participating track management and regulatory veterinarians can access free of charge.

"I think it gives us an opportunity to identify specific injuries and track them in terms of return to published works or racing or attrition from racing," said Dr. Mary Scollay, the Kentucky commission's equine medical director and one of the veterinarians who helped test the program. "Clearly, it's going to help us identify trends with respect to injury type and frequency. Over time, it is probably going to allow us to address some of the assertions or beliefs that are held regarding changes in injury frequency over time. I think it's going to allow us as regulatory veterinarians to help identify horses that are at increased risk of injury and allow us to scrutinize them more thoroughly. I think the possibilities are limitless."

Under the program, track veterinarians fill out standardized incident case reports for each racetrack injury that occurs. The report sheet asks for such details as where on the track the incident occurred, the type of injury the horse sustained and its anatomical location, how the horse was treated on the scene, and what equipment the horse was wearing.

The sheet includes space for the horse's name, though that information won't be made public. Online incident-report data is linked to The Jockey Club's racing and breeding information, making it possible to study injury rates across sire lines, for example.

But such a study would be highly complex due to many variables, Scollay said.

"I'm just speculating, but it could be easily 10 years before we had enough data to look at that," she said.

Colorado State University epidemiologist Dr. Ashley Hill will head up data analysis, looking for patterns that suggest risk factors.

As an example of a potential pattern, Scollay pointed to earlier research by Dr. Sue Stover in California that found that a certain level of cumulative, high-speed work could increase the chance of injury.

"That identified a threshold, and above that threshold in terms of high-speed work, whether in racing or training, the horses were at significantly increased risk of injury," Scollay said. "I am hoping that we will be able to identify other indicators. That will allow us to interact more constructively with trainers and owners.

"Hopefully, work will come out of this that will help owners and trainers understand risks faced in racing. Insurance companies have actuarial charts that identify risk behaviors and how they impact outcomes in certain situations, and that's the model here."

Scollay emphasized that this is the start of a long-term project that might not yield strong evidence of risk factors until the database is large enough to reveal significant patterns. That could take three to five years.

"When you start jumping to conclusions with insufficient data, that's worse than no information at all," Scollay said.