06/29/2010 12:00AM

Industry to develop a riding injury database


LEXINGTON, Ky. - The racing industry will begin compiling statistics on injuries suffered by jockeys and exercise riders at racetracks in order to more precisely identify risk factors for the riders, participants in a health and safety summit at Keeneland said Tuesday.

The riding injury database will be modeled after the existing Equine Injury Database, a project launched 18 months ago to collect data on the circumstances surrounding fatal injuries of horses, according to Mick Peterson, a biomechanics professor at the University of Maine who also is the executive director of the Racetrack Surfaces Testing Laboratory. Administrators of the database will seek cooperation from racetracks, insurance companies, and workers' compensation programs to collect the data, and then will subject the data to analysis to determine if there are steps that racetracks or riders can take to minimize the chances of injury, Peterson said.

The development of the riding injury database was one of a number of projects that participants in the two-day summit said they intended to tackle after discussions within four separate committees. The summit, which is administered by the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, was being held this week for the third time in the last four years.

Although Peterson said he intended to begin collecting data on injuries immediately, many of the other projects announced Tuesday are in the formative stages, with committee members promising to conduct work on the tasks over the next 12 to 18 months.

Another major project announced Tuesday included the intent to develop an accreditation program for the myriad of equine-welfare groups that have sprouted up over the past decade as the issue of equine retirement has become more prominent. Under the program, equine-welfare groups would have to comply with a slate of minimum requirements in order to receive accreditation, which would purportedly serve to identify the best organizations in the industry, according to Matt Iuliano, executive director of the Jockey Club, whose committee will seek to establish the requirements with the help of existing welfare organization.

The first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit was conducted in fall of 2006, in the wake of the breakdown of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro in the Preakness Stakes that year. Barbaro's injury, and other catastrophic injuries suffered by horses in high-profile events, had generated intense scrutiny of racing's practices from the general public, animal-welfare organizations, and legislators.

Racing officials convened the original summit in order to identify ways in which racing could improve conditions at its racetracks, and several high-profile projects have had their genesis at the two preceding summits, including the Equine Injury Database and the National Thoroughbred Racing Association's Safety and Integrity Alliance, an accreditation program for racetracks.

Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland and an active participant in the summit, cited the launch of those programs and others like it in saying that participants in this week's summit -- the third in four years -- "accomplished what we set out to do, which was to bring a cross-section of industry participants together and continue the momentum."

Another recommendation arising from the summit's committees included the modification of the Jockey Club's existing InCompass racing-office software to automatically identify horses who have been placed on vet's lists or starter's lists in other states. According to Peterson, some trainers ship horses out of the state in order to avoid complying with the conditions that are required to remove the horses from the lists, in the hopes that the state is not aware that the horse has been temporarily barred from racing.

"We frequently see horsemen who shop their horses around to other states," Peterson said. "It's a fairly simple thing to address."

Other projects announced at the close of the summit included the development of best-practice documents to address outbreaks of contagious diseases, stable design, and track-maintenance procedures; an effort to examine regulations in claiming races that would remove incentives for trainers to enter injured horses; a study of the physiological reasons underlying the failure of thousands of racehorses to make a start in a race each year; the establishment of continuing education courses for backstretch workers; and an effort to collect data on medication treatments to analyze veterinary care in racehorses, the officials said.