02/16/2009 12:00AM

Vets recommend horses get more rest


No racehorse should be allowed to start twice within a 10-day period, the American Association of Equine Practitioners recommended in a paper distributed on Monday that was developed to address racing injuries and the public's perception of the sport.

The prohibition on multiple starts within 10 days was one of dozens of recommendations in the paper, which was prepared by a 35-member task force formed in July 2008. The impetus behind the formation of the task force was the public scrutiny surrounding racing after the death of the filly Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby.

The paper includes recommendations in four areas: societal change and the public perception of horse racing; the racing business model; the veterinarian-owner-trainer relationship; and medication. Many of the recommendations dovetail with ongoing efforts of other racing groups to address racehorse injuries, though several are unique to the AAEP.

The paper recommends that all horses be given a regular period of rest "to provide an opportunity to refresh and diminish the volume of persistent cyclic loading that occurs in the absence of rest." The paper also recommends that the racing industry study "the safety and welfare implications of the current schedules, procedures, and policies surrounding the conditioning, sale, and racing of 2-year-old horses."

Two-year-old racing was a frequent target of animal-rights groups that criticized racing last year in the wake of Eight Belles's death. In response to those criticisms, The Jockey Club conducted a survey of racing data last year that indicated that horses that raced as 2-year-olds had longer racing careers and were more successful than horses that did not.

The AAEP paper acknowledged the results of that survey, but also said the task force believed that certain 2-year-olds are not able to withstand the rigors of training and racing as well as others.

Another recommendation sought to discourage racing secretaries from "hustling" horses in order to fill races. The practice is common at U.S. racetracks because of bettors' preference for races with large fields. The AAEP paper said that the practice can result in the entry of horses "who might not otherwise be suitable for racing."

The entire paper can be found at the group's website, www.aaep.org.