10/17/2006 12:00AM

Panel calls for toe-grab ban


LEXINGTON, Ky. - Toe-grab horseshoes pose such a statistically significant factor in racehorse injuries that racing commissions should pass rules immediately banning the equipment, participants in a two-day conference on the health and safety of racehorses here said Tuesday.

The recommendation to ban toe-grab horseshoes - which feature a raised ridge on the leading edge of the horseshoe plate - was one of several to come out of the conference, which was sponsored by the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. The conference, called the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, attracted approximately 40 researchers, veterinarians, breeders, trainers, and racing officials to Keeneland Racecourse for public discussion of the leading factors for racehorse injuries and how to improve the racing industry's data-collection practices regarding injuries.

Toe-grab horseshoes are most commonly used by horsemen to improve traction on dirt racing surfaces. Research presented at the conference by Dr. Sue Stover, an equine researcher at the University of California at Davis, showed that the horseshoes played a significant role in catastrophic injuries for racehorses. One of Stover's studies indicated that the odds of a horse suffering a fatal injury while wearing toe grabs on the front feet were anywhere from 3.5 to 16 times higher than for horses who weren't wearing the shoes.

"It's been something that's been talked about for years," said Ed Bowen, the president of the Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, a charitable division of the Jockey Club that distributes funds for equine research projects. "I'm sure trainers will be reluctant to do it, but the scientific evidence appears to indicate that toe-grabs are a major risk factor in injuries."

At the conference, participants were divided into six working groups on Monday afternoon to formulate specific recommendations designed to improve how the racing industry deals with racehorse injuries. Among the recommendations were:

* Research, develop, and publish additional statistics about the "durability and longevity" of horses based on pedigree.

* Distribute scientific research more widely among racing industry participants.

* Examine the use of certain types of horseshoes.

* Develop standard methods for reporting the nature of ontrack injuries.

* Provide education programs for horsemen about new research findings.

Dr. Mary Scollay, the chief veterinarian for Florida's Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering, has been asked to head up a pilot program to develop a standard form for reporting the details of ontrack injuries. Currently, most racing commissions record injuries sustained by horses during a race, but the forms used for recording the details of the injuries vary widely by jurisdiction, making it difficult to pull together data from different states.

Scollay said on Tuesday that she hopes to present the standard form at the next meeting of the Association of Racing Commissioners International in December. The ultimate intention of standardizing the forms will be to create a national database that can be used to search for common factors in racehorse injuries, though the full implementation of such a database is likely years away, Scollay said.

Dr. Rick Arthur, the chief veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board, said the racing industry as a whole suffers from a lack of widespread data about injuries and what may be contributing factors. That lack of information extends to how veterinarians treat horses for common injuries, either through medication or physical treatments.

"We really do not have data available to us to correlate certain medical practices to specific injuries," Arthur said. "Overall, we don't have all the information we need. We're certainly opinion-rich, but we're fact-poor."

The Jockey Club, which is the national registry for the Thoroughbred breed, will also begin to collect and analyze data about how the progeny of certain sire lines fare on scales such as average length of racing career, average starts, and average distance of winning races, Bowen said.

Bowen said the Jockey Club would seek to "highlight" the statistics of horses who performed better than their peers. He acknowledged that such a project could be controversial among breeders if the Jockey Club's data indicated that certain sire lines were producing horses that performed well below the average.

"I'm prepared to live with the fact that we may offend some people, but we want to help people create a safer, sounder horse," Bowen said.