Horse racing safety advocates are proposing national systems for tracking jockey injuries and sharing horse pre-race medical records in an effort to reduce accidents.
The third annual Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, sponsored by the Jockey Club, focused on better interstate cooperation, including a push for a national compact that would allow multiple states to more easily enact the same safety changes as others do.
While states work together on some things in horse racing such as licensing the animals, there is no central governing body. Instead, individual state racing commissions approve their own rules on everything from drug testing to the type of shoes horses are allowed to wear in a race.
However, the fatal breakdown of the filly Eight Belles after the 2008 Kentucky Derby helped shine the light on safety problems in the industry and raise the call for it to speak with one voice. At the summit, many praised the industry for making strides recently.
“I think the industry really pulled together after Eight Belles went down, and I hope we will continue pulling together,” said Lisa Underwood, executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. “We had so much cooperation because there was a sense of urgency, and I hope we maintain that sense of urgency.”
Among the most noticeable changes enacted at a previous safety summit was a database that monitors fatal injuries to racehorses, the first details of which were announced during Monday’s session.
A logical next step, according to some of the trainers, track owners, veterinarians and regulators who attended the summit, was to create a similar system to learn why riders get hurt and how to best reduce those injuries.
Mick Peterson, an engineering professor at the University of Maine who has focused on racetrack safety issues, said no specific national proposal has been written. He says it would likely eventually include jockeys and exercise riders as well as accidents that happen during races and morning training.
Keeneland president Nick Nicholson said there were some privacy concerns that needed to be addressed before the jockey database could be implemented, but he said many states and tracks are already doing a form of the system on their own. Keeneland, for example, recently required jockeys to submit their medical information for its computer database before being allowed to ride.
Among the other changes advocated was better cooperation between state veterinarians and racing stewards when it comes to sharing information about the health of horses. Rick Arthur, California’s equine medical director, said if a horse is scratched in one state because of a health concern, no other state should allow the animal to run — even if that state’s laws are more lax.
“There are going to be problems,” Arthur said. “It’s not an easy issue to solve, but before we can look at all the parameters, we have to have better facts.”
Many racing officials would like to see the industry go even further by signing onto an interstate compact that would allow rules to be proposed on a national basis. While states would still have the ultimate say on their own laws, they would have more ability to push the changes through the process if others are doing so concurrently, Peterson said.
However, it takes six states to sign onto that compact, and so far only Colorado has gone through the process.
Ed Martin, president and CEO of Racing Commissioners International, said states should be more eager to sign up. The alternative, he said, is for Congress to assign a federal regulatory body to oversee the sport if there is more public outcry over safety problems.
“When there’s a blip on the radar screen and you don’t address it, it potentially gets bigger and bigger,” Martin said.