New horse racing rules adopted in New York state - DVM
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New horse racing rules adopted in New York state
Updated regulations adopted after spike in equine fatalities at Aqueduct Winter Meet in 2011-2012.


Fatality causes outlined

According to the Report, of the 21 deaths, 18 fatalities were horses euthanized as a result of fractures sustained during racing—11 were associated with fracture of the right forelimb and seven with fracture of the left forelimb. One horse was euthanized a week after the race because of a severe soft tissue injury of the right hindlimb.

The remaining two fatalities were unrelated to musculoskeletal failure and were determined to be anomalies; thus, they were excluded from the relevant population of fatally injured horses when the Task Force considered potential interventions.

Separate from the analysis of the individual fatalities, the Task Force examined numerous other possible factors that might have contributed. These included racing surfaces, weather, the condition book, pre-race examination of horses, claiming races, shoeing practices, drugs and medication and extracorporeal shockwave therapy.

The Report stated, "The Task Force believes that there were missed opportunities for intervention to prevent these injuries. However, the Task Force does not intend for this Report to be used to find fault, assign blame or otherwise result in disciplinary action for events that occurred. This Report is intended to be a constructive analysis, identifying actions with the potential to prevent or mitigate injury to horses and riders, and our overall conclusions regarding the fatally injured horses as a group sets the stage for our recommendations."1


The Task Force formulated several conclusions, many of which are listed here from the Report1 (verbatim text is displayed in italics):

  • There was no single event or circumstance that was responsible for the 21 racing fatalities.
  • There were two significant anomalies that clearly distinguished this meet from previous one—a major infusion of cash into the purse structure from VLT revenues and the unusual weather.
  • While larger purses have attracted better horses to New York Racing, the disproportionate increase of purses in the lower level claiming races incentivized poor decision-making by a range of stake holders.
  • The unprecedented winter weather of 2011-2012, which featured unseasonably dry conditions and periods of warm temperatures, may have made it difficult to maintain consistent water content of the track, but the lack of scientific knowledge of the ideal surface moisture content makes it impossible to determine the significance of this finding. However, the unseasonably mild weather did eliminate periods of enforced rest ordinarily associated with routine winter conditions and weather related cancellations of training and racing.
  • Some trainers may have failed to identify horses at risk, or failed to act appropriately to protect horses they recognized as at risk, likely in response to economic incentives.
  • The most significant factor for fatal musculoskeletal injury in the racehorse is the presence of pre-existing injury. Many of the horses in this investigation were understood to have had pre-existing musculoskeletal conditions prior to the race in which they were fatally injured. The Task Force believes that the use of systemic or intra-articular corticosteroids may have impaired veterinarians and trainers in accurately assessing horses' soundness leading up to a race. The Task Force also believes that the use of these medications too close to the race may have limited the ability of the NYRA veterinarians to identify the presence of pre-existing conditions disposed to progressing to catastrophic injury.
  • NYRA's organizational hierarchy, establishing veterinary department accountability to the Racing Office, created conflicts of interest and pressures that influenced the actions of NYRA veterinarians, resulting in inadequate protection of horses.
  • Inconsistencies in NYRA Veterinary Department procedures and protocols compromised the ability of the examining veterinarians to identify horses at risk and intervene accordingly.
  • NYRA veterinarians have the ability to require ultrasound, radiographic or other imaging modalities in special circumstances to identify pre-existing conditions that can lead to fatal musculoskeletal injury, yet there was no indication this was done in regard to any of the injured horses. This likely represented missed opportunities for a medical intervention to prevent injury in some cases.
  • Numerous risk factors were found in the population of fatally injured horses, and while further validation of this tool is indicated, risk-factor assessment may assist in identifying horses of interest for the purposes of risk management, increased scrutiny, strategically timed examinations and possible intervention.
  • The reluctance of jockeys and exercise riders to draw attention to horses they believed to be unsafe endangered horses and riders. The decision to prioritize prospective financial gain above personal safety is indicative of flawed thinking in which a hypothetical situation (future riding opportunities) supercedes a present reality of an unsound horse and risk of injury. If a rider is injured as a result of riding an unsound horse, the question of potential of future earnings becomes moot.
  • Based on the information reviewed, the Task Force stated its belief that opportunities may have been missed to prevent the fatal injuries in 11 of the 21 horses included in the investigation.

The Report also stated that, in addition to the analysis of the individual fatalities and other possible factors that may have contributed to those fatalities, other matters pursuant to the Task Force's mandate or that warranted comment or recommendations as a result of its review included medical records, postmortem protocols and procedures, the equine injury database and risk factors, an equine medical director and NYRA governance.

The Report noted, "The Task Force believes that the safety of the horse and rider are core priorities for NYRA and should be prominently included in the NYRA mission statement."1 This, they felt, will help to shape the culture of NYRA to include a focus on the safety and welfare of horses and riders.


Source: DVM360 MAGAZINE,
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