10/16/2012 4:28PM

Keeneland summit: Claiming horses found to be at greater risk

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Researchers studying data collected over the past three years on injuries sustained by horses at racetracks have concluded that horses running in claiming races are at far higher risk of breaking down than horses who run in non-claiming races.

The finding dovetails with a widespread belief in the racing industry that claiming horses suffer breakdowns more frequently than non-claiming horses. The researchers have concluded from the data that horses in claiming races are 1.8 times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than horses in non-claiming races.

The latest analysis of the data also continued to show a statistically significant difference between the rate of catastrophic injuries on artificial surfaces when compared with dirt surfaces and turf surfaces. Over the past three years, horses running on synthetic surfaces have suffered catastrophic injuries at a rate of 1.3 per 1,000 starts, whereas horses running on turf had a 1.6 rate and dirt horses had a 2.0 rate, slightly higher than the overall rate of 1.9, according to researchers.

Dr. Tim Parkin, a University of Glasgow epidemiologist, outlined the results of the latest analysis on Tuesday during the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit at Keeneland. Parkin had conducted the previous analyses of the data as well.

The goal of the analysis of the data has been to identify the risk factors for catastrophic breakdowns so that those horses at highest risk of a breakdown can be subjected to additional scrutiny by examining vets. Ultimately, researchers hope to begin bringing down the catastrophic injury rate by using the data to recommend horse management practices as well.

According to Parkin, if all the highest risk factors were grouped together on one horse, a single horse could have a “50- to 60-fold” higher rate of risk for a catastrophic injury than another horse. However, because the risk of a catastrophic breakdown is already low – about 0.2 percent for any horse – that means that the theoretical highest risk horse may only be at a 1 percent risk for a breakdown (whereas the lowest-risk horse might be at a 0.02 percent risk).

“The important thing is to emphasize which of the risk factors are most important,” Parkin said.

According to Parkin, the latest analysis identified seven major risk factors for horses in claiming races. Those deemed to be at greater risk were intact males (compared to geldings and fillies and mares); a higher relative ratio of the race’s purse to the race’s claiming price; a horse who is 3 years old or older; a horse who is dropping in claiming price compared to the previous start; and three factors related to the frequency with which the horse has raced in the past 12 months. The most significant finding in that trio was that horses who had received six-month breaks in the past year were less likely to break down.

Several of the risk factors identified in the analyses have already been incorporated in the veterinary protocols used by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission when performing prerace exams, according to Dr. Mary Scollay, the commission’s equine medical director. Using those risk factors as flags, along with others that Scollay said she had identified during her career as a regulatory veterinarian – such as frequent rider changes and postrace drug tests that show legal traces of multiple painkillers – state vets in Kentucky are now identifying “horses of interest” for additional scrutiny in prerace exams. In addition, they are targeting the horses deemed to be at risk for “out-of-competition” exams in an effort to head off injuries before a horse is entered to race, Scollay said.

“It’s really important to get the right horse on the radar screen, and if we do that it improves everyone’s decision-making,” Scollay said.

In June, the Jockey Club announced that it was planning to send alerts out to racing offices and state veterinarians if a computer analysis of a horse’s past-performance information produced a high risk factor. That system, which would allow prerace vets to subject a horse to additional scrutiny, “remains in development,” said Bob Curran, a spokesperson for the Jockey Club.

The release of the latest data was the highlight of the first day of the two-day summit, which is being held for the fourth time. The project to develop an equine-injury database was launched after the first summit in 2006.

Approximately 100 people were in attendance at Keeneland on Tuesday to hear the day’s worth of presentations. The presentations were also streamed live over the Internet.

An additional highlight was a presentation by Dr. Larry Bramlage, the renowned equine surgeon at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital outside of Lexington. Bramlage focused his presentation on how bone restructures and remodels in response to stress, and he made several recommendations for how to minimize the risk of a horse suffering a catastrophic bone fracture. The recommendations included working horses at full speed for only one furlong, the training of horses over different surfaces regularly, and the frequent use of two to three months of turnout to allow stressed bones to heal.

Carson Horton More than 1 year ago
This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who actually knows what happens behind the closed doors of racing's darkside....Claiming horses are viewed as livestock and nothing more by the owners and trainers who make money off of them. From the perspective of most owners the minute they are no longer economically productive they might as well be dog food! Americans take the fun out of everything and that's what they have done with claiming horses in the racing game. That's why the European horses are so much better than American horses. They don't emphasize low grade races filled with horses that are only their to generate profits for their handlers. The cheapest horses that race in Europe are as good or better as any stake horse in the U.S....That's why they can send their second-stringers over and win 6 out of the last 7 Breeders Cup Turf races!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Seems to me that working a horse at full speed for only one furlong would hurt a horse when he's asked to run full speed for 6-10 furlongs.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Dumb is as dumb says...
Dan Cronin More than 1 year ago
Horse racing needs an off season like every other sport. From Dec 1 to Mar 1 there should be no racing, anywhere. Let the horses rest, the trainers rest, and the owners rest. Then you would have better fields, bigger purses, and the horses would be well rested. Also you want better Stallions? Refuse to allow bredding until they turn 5. So if someone wants to retire a 3yr old for a mysterly injury IE Bode, UR, IHA....and others every year. That is fine BUT you cant breed them until they turn 5. This would allow trainers and owners to take their time with horses instead of forcing them to get to track in April of 2yr old years and hurry to triple crown trail to get hurt. Let them mature a little, No racing 2yr olds until July 1. All this would slow people down and let them enjoy the horse ans let the horse grow. If we made our 10-12yr olds train every day year around, non stop of course many would burn out and get hurt. Of course Humans have seasons for sports and rest time. Why dont we do it for horses? I will tell you why GREED!!!
john p More than 1 year ago
Well that would be nice ,but the people paying the bill's would go BROKE!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
..in other news it has been figured out that more people eat ice cream during the summer than in the winter...
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
And once again it is noted that jackasses often hide 'behind' the non-name anonymouth.
John Breen More than 1 year ago
I can't believe they needed a study to reach this conclusion, as far as I'm concerned it's only common sense.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
But look at the last 40 years...
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
Good article Matt. While I am no great fan of Bramlage some of his suggestions harken to the way horses were trained 30-40 years ago.I can remember bringing horses over to work and hearing ' son we already know how fast he can go.' Whatever their ability level it seems that they generally lasted longer. Again, I'll recommend Dr Deb Bennett's ' Timing Rate of Skeletal Maturation in Horses.
Slew32A More than 1 year ago
Wow! I wonder how much money was wasted to figure this out? I bet they also could've came up with the conclusion that it was claimers that had recently dropped significantly in price.
GARY More than 1 year ago
I would be interested to see how many of those "horses of interest" in Kentucky broke down.
Don Reed More than 1 year ago
"Industry News:Keeneland summit: Claiming horses found to be at greater risk..." Well. DUH.
kingsailor2 More than 1 year ago
The statistically small number of breakdowns is striking. The "common" perception is that the number is greater because it is so dramatic and sad when it happens. But if one looks at the data objectively, the # of breakdowns is very low. If you read any of the Jockey Club/TOBA/BC releases, you would think that there is an epidemic of breakdowns due to lasix.