Racing's reformation?

Racing's reformation?

Congress panel calls on veterinary experts about fatal breakdowns
Jul 01, 2008

Use of medications scrutinized

The panel had some tough questions for Thoroughbred owners, breeders, trainers and officials from major racing and equine organizations, and some of their responses seemed sharply critical of the role of track veterinarians. At least a couple of the witnesses intimated that veterinarians might be reaping excessive profits by pushing medications on trainers and owners.

Dr. C. Wayne McIlwraith
Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), ranking member of the panel, echoed Schakowsky's remarks by adding, "Greed has hurt the health of the horse, safety of the jockey, strength of the breed and the integrity of the sport. Horses race more on drug-induced ability than natural ability. It's not who has the best horse, but who has the best veterinarian."

Whitfield also charged that there's a lack of transparency regarding deaths on the racetrack, and the lack of a central association or agency to enforce rules uniformly across the states. More than three horse deaths a day were reported at tracks around the country last year, and 5,000 since 2003.

"This hearing is a wake-up call for you," Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.) told the dozen witnesses. "There is abuse in your industry and you know it better than I. We don't want to come in and regulate you; we want you to regulate yourself. We are asking you to step up to the plate."

DVMS offer testimony

The four veterinarians gave their opening statements on medical issues and what's being done to help cut down racing injuries, but they were last on the hearing schedule and time ran out before subcommittee members could question them at length individually. Another hearing is expected in the near future.

The four DVMs testifying were:

  • SCOLLAY, who described the success of the uniform on-track equine injury-reporting system she developed and that several tracks nationwide started using in June 2007.
  • SUSAN STOVER, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ACVS, a professor at the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, who told the panel that, while the growing number of racehorse deaths is "devastating, they are the tip of the iceberg." Many horses suffer microscopic bone damage inadvertently, even under normal conditions, which don't necessarily point to abuse, she said. Initial preliminary data from mandated synthetic track surfaces in California show promise for helping prevent injuries, she said. "Given time, I'm optimistic we can prevent many more injuries."
  • LAWRENCE R. SOMA, VMD, professor of anesthesia and professor of large-animal medicine in the Department of Clinical Studies at the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center, said most racehorses in his state are now running free of anabolic steroids. He also described the legal use of furosemide, or Lasix, as a pre-race medication that reduces pressure in horses' lungs, but hasn't been shown to stop all bleeding. Horses given furosemide seem to run faster, he said.
  • C. WAYNE MCILWRAITH, BVsc, PhD, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, director of the Orthopaedic Research Center at the University of Colorado's College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences, told the panel of collaborative work he is doing that may help in the early recognition of bone damage that could help prevent later fractures, about ongoing work in comparing the effects of different track surfaces and about equine practitioners' concern with proper use of medications. "These three issues from my perspective are key. As veterinarians, we continue to promote the health and well-being of all equine athletes," he said.

The panel's lead-off witness, Allen Marzelli, president and chief executive officer of the Jockey Club, said the industry recognizes its problems as never before and is working quickly and effectively to correct them.