06/13/2012 11:55AM

Jockey Club devises plan to alert officials when high-risk horses entered


LEXINGTON, Ky. – The Jockey Club announced plans on Wednesday to launch a system this August that will send alerts to racing offices when a horse that is deemed to be at high risk of an injury is entered in a race.

The alert, according to the Jockey Club, will be intended to notify the racing office that the horse should be subjected to additional scrutiny during its pre-race veterinary examinations, which are required in nearly every major racing jurisdiction. The criteria that will determine whether a horse is at high risk of an injury will be gleaned from ongoing analyses of a project to collect data on racing injuries that is being administered by the Jockey Club, the organization said.

The alert system is so far the most tangible outgrowth of the injury database, which has collected data on millions of races since being launched in late 2008. So far, analyses of the data have yielded several subsets of horses that are at high risk of injuries compared with the overall horse population, according to Dr. Tim Parkin, the epidemiologist retained by the Jockey Club to conduct the analyses.

“With this system in place, we can identify the population of horses at markedly increased risk, and potentially implement measures to mitigate that risk,” Dr. Parkin said, in a release.

The alert will be sent out through the InCompass suite of racing-office software developed by the Jockey Club that is used at nearly every racetrack in North America.  The alert service will be made available at no additional fee, the Jockey Club said, and tracks will be responsible for how the alert system is implemented and put into practice.

It is anticipated that the alert will be passed on to regulatory veterinarians who are responsible for clearing horses to race. The American Association of Equine Practitioners, a trade group that represents racetrack vets, will work with the Jockey Club to determine the protocols for the pre-race exam for a horse that is the target of an alert, the Jockey Club said.

So far, it is unclear whether the trainer of the horse will be made aware that the computer software tagged the horse for being at a higher risk of injury. A trainer may react negatively to being told that a horse was deemed to be at risk, and it is likely that a trainer will not be notified that the system has called for the horse to be put under additional scrutiny.

According to the most recent analysis of the injury database, horses suffer fatalities at U.S. racetracks at the rate of 1.88 per 1,000 starts. However, that rate can vary widely based on the horse’s past-performance history and the surface over which the race is conducted. For example, the latest analysis showed a statistically significant variation between races conducted on dirt surfaces and races over artificial surfaces, with the fatality rate on dirt surfaces running nearly twice as high as that on artificial surfaces.

In August, Dr. Parkin gave a presentation at the Jockey Club’s Round Table Conference identifying a highly specific subset of horses as being at a much greater risk of injury. That subset was a horse who had not started prior to his 5-year-old year, had made his first start in the last nine months, had made 10 or more starts in the past six months, and had not started in the past 15 days.

Bob Curran, a Jockey Club spokesman, said the criteria for the alerts would continue to be refined as more data is collected.