Improving the Health & Welfare of the HorseDr. Rick Arthur - Equine Medical Director, California Horse Racing Board
Progress Report on the Welfare & Safety of the Racehorse Summit
Dr. Rick Arthur: Thank you, Ed.
Good morning and thank all of you for inviting me.
I'm here to talk about what the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit has accomplished in the last 10 months, what is going on and where we are going next.
To get everyone on the same page I'm going to quickly review the overriding problem. On the surface this tells it all: a 50 percent reduction in starts per starter in 35 years.
But let me offer a different approach: This is data that was put together for a Southern California project looking at the short field issue. We took one day and followed the starting horses from Hollywood Park and Aqueduct for 24 months. There is more of a story in this data but for today all we want to look at is the attrition rate of those horses. To be clear, this is not injury data, even though injuries would be the major component. By attrition rate, I'm talking about horses leaving racing for all reasons. That can be injury, fatality, too slow, the breeding shed or any number of other reasons. Using both the New York and California samples, the attrition rate works out to be about 3 percent per month.
If we look at the entire national population data from The Jockey Club, we essentially get the same number. On a monthly basis an average of 3 percent of the horses are lost to racing each month for all reasons.
So what is the economic cost? In 2006, a little over 72,000 horses started and the average yearling sold for $57,000. At 3 percent per month attrition rate, that gives you $124 million per month or about $1.5 billion per year. One can quibble about the methodology and the exact number. We saw a little bit of a different number from Joe Santanna earlier, but it certainly gives you a good look at the magnitude of the problem. Those familiar with the economics of the industry see this as a reasonable estimate. If anything it is conservative. And this is just the capital expenditures for the horses. It says nothing about the operating costs and the other related maintenance costs, such as training and veterinary services.
But the non-economic costs are harder to calculate. All of us lament the lack of press coverage of racing. Well, here it is, front page coverage in The San Diego Union-Tribune last year at Del Mar: a front-page picture of a soon-to-be-euthanized horse being loaded into the ambulance. Mind you, this is front page of the newspaper, not just the sports section. Arlington faced similar scrutiny. And there was Barbaro.
Planning for the welfare summit was well underway before the Preakness. But the Barbaro tragedy added new meaning to our effort.
There is a reason horse racing is different than other gaming industries and it is the horse. They aren't ping-pong balls; they aren't slot machines; they are flesh and blood. The public understands this very well - in many ways better than many in our own industry. Barbaro was a wake-up call if anyone was still sleeping.
The organization of the welfare summit was described earlier. At the summit, 32 critical issues were identified. They were assigned to six specific committees or task forces. Some medication issues were referred to the RMTC. This is what has been accomplished to date:
The On-Track Injury Reporting Committee's primary objective was to develop a national injury reporting system and that is well underway. The committee refined the reporting form, established inclusion criteria and signed up over 60 tracks to participate. The program started on June 1 and nearly 500 reports have already been submitted. The committee is working with InCompass to simplify the process and manage the program from data entry to final analysis.
This pilot on-track injury program is designed for regulatory veterinarians, but those injuries are only really the tip of the iceberg. The committee is working on a similar simplified reporting program for private veterinarians. With the power and expertise of InCompass and The Jockey Club Information Systems, both of these efforts appear doable; difficult but doable.
The Education and Licensing Committee has already produced their first newsletter. The goal is to get critical information in the hands of the professionals handling the horses in our industry and keep the horsemen up-to-date with current knowledge. Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation and many other organizations fund considerable research for the betterment of the horse. It does no good if the end user doesn't get the word. Our website is already up and running with the links to important resources on horse health and training.
Long term, the committee will be developing a continuing education program for our horse professionals with an eye on requiring continuing education for key personnel. Your doctor, dentist and veterinarian have such requirements. The question is, "Shouldn't your trainer and farrier?"
The Hoof Care and Shoeing Committee has been very active under Bill Casner's leadership. Bill and several members of his committee went on the road to the RCI meeting this spring that resulted in an RCI model rule recommendation for toe grabs.
The committee has also developed educational material on hoof care, shoeing and the effects of toe grabs and just last week they put on a workshop here at Saratoga.
The Racing Surface Committee is charged with developing safer racing surfaces throughout the country. The problem, of course, is how to do that, particularly in light of the fact we have woefully little objective data on track surfaces.
Dr. Mick Peterson, from the University of Maine, has examined 21 racing surfaces around the country with his biomechanical testing apparatus and his ground-penetrating radar. Dr. Peterson currently has a graduate student on site at Del Mar assigned the task of developing a standardized method for monitoring racing surfaces and maintenance procedures that can be taken countrywide.
Racing surfaces make a difference. This is an exciting frontier with a lot of promise. The engineered surfaces have decreased racing fatalities, but they have not been as simple to manage as everyone had hoped. We need to know more about them.
Ed Bowen will address the Durability Index Committee, so I'll skip that.
The Racing Office and Conditions Committee have an interesting task. Their objective is to increase entries. It isn't as if racing secretaries haven't already been looking at this problem.
But there are other issues we need to examine. Claiming is part of American racing and it works well in putting competitive races together. But claiming has a dark side. Dick Mandella has described the claiming game as playing "Hot Potato;" "Old Maid" might be a better analogy. There is an incentive in claiming to run bad horses and by bad I don't mean slow.
The committee is looking at auction races as is done in other countries where the horses are auctioned off after the race. Another approach under discussion would be to void claims for horses that do not finish. Neither is as simple as it sounds so some thought needs to be put into the process.
The Health and Medical Records Committee has been on the back-burner until the injury reporting program is up and running. One active area is a program for regulatory veterinarians to use tablet PCs in their pre-race examinations tied back into the InCompass system. A prototype might be ready by Breeders' Cup.
Health and medical records will be a major issue going forward that will go well beyond the welfare summit. Many countries already require equine passports for significant health and vaccination information. We already are working on proof of principal concepts using microchips to follow horse movement.
Medical records are a sensitive area as was made clear at the recent TOC Medication Summit at Del Mar. Some trainers, and veterinarians, consider medical records to hold the equivalent to trade secrets. Even if true, I'm not sure we should be sympathetic.
There are real benefits to a good medical records program: One issue the welfare summit was unable to address fully was the relationship between medication, injuries and racing longevity. Why? Because we have no data. It isn't available and won't be available without fundamental changes in the way business is done.
However, the welfare summit did identify specific medication issues, which were referred to the RMTC. The first was a meaningful and effective penalty program for drug and medication violations. This is already well underway at the RMTC, and several states are moving to adopt all or part of the RMTC penalty guidelines. The second issue has also been on the front burner of the RMTC and that is the issue of anabolic steroids.
Anabolic steroids will be the next major medication battle in horse racing. You will hear all sorts of reasons why anabolic steroids are necessary in American racing and why American racing is different from Australia, Southeast Asia, Japan, Europe, South Africa and Dubai. I practiced on the racetrack for 30 years and I don't buy it.
The RCI has already re-classified all anabolic steroids as Class III or higher except for testosterone, boldenone - which is Equipoise - and stanazolol - which is Winstrol. The exceptions for Winstrol and Equipoise were made because they are FDA-approved anabolic steroids in the U.S. Hopefully in the very near future - possibly before this time next year - these last three anabolic steroids will be moved to Class III, thereby effectively eliminating anabolic steroids from American racing. All we need is the resolve and the leadership to move forward.
Thank you for your attention. I'll hand you back to Ed. Ed...