MIDLANTIC EQUINE FATALITIES DOWN IN 2020
COVID-19 forced Thoroughbred racing into what was for most a two-month hiatus, but the stakeholders in the Mid Atlantic turned the down time into an opportunity to focus on its Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. Regulators, racetracks, horsemen’s and breeder’s groups representing all seven states in the region – Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia – committed to the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities in 2019. Collectively, they have been working to adopt regulations, protocols and best practices to enhance the safety and integrity of the sport. Their efforts are having an impact. The equine fatality rate in the region has dropped from 1.78 per thousand starts in 2019, to 1.21 per thousand to date this year, a decrease of 33%.
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The architects of the Strategic Plan, Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association Chairman Alan Foreman and New York State Equine Medical Director Dr. Scott Palmer, provided a progress report on the efforts of the Mid-Atlantic stakeholders Wednesday.
“It is heartening to see that the commitment and hard work of so many in the Mid Atlantic is bearing fruit,” Foreman said. “We have representatives from every faction of the Thoroughbred industry in the region at the table. Everyone has the chance to be heard and their specific issues considered. We are proud to say that, working together, we have been able to make significant advances on issues of medication reform and horse health.”
Dr. Palmer remarked, “In a climate of polarity and discord, the efforts in the Mid Atlantic serve as a shining example of what we can accomplish when we are united behind the cause of equine safety and welfare.”
Every state in the Mid Atlantic has adopted the following reforms:
- A prohibition on NSAID “stacking” – the use of more than one NSAID the week of a race
- Transfer of joint injection records for claimed horses
- Necropsies on equine fatalities
- Mortality Review Board
- Voidable claim rules
Dr. Tim Parkin, a renowned epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, released the findings of his latest study using data from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database in June, noting that those tracks that have instituted a void claim rule in the last 10 years saw a 27% decrease in equine fatalities for those races. The states in the Mid Atlantic have all implemented this additional layer of protection; claims are voidable at the discretion of the claimant if the horse is vanned from the track after the race or is observed to be lame prior to delivery to the new trainer.
Additional reforms have been implemented in all states except West Virginia, including:
- 48-hour withdrawal time for NSAIDs
- Enhanced penalties for NSAID overages
- 14-day withdrawal for joint injections
The West Virginia Racing Commission considered legislation to adopt the new guidelines for NSAIDs and joint injections, but it ultimately was voted down by the Commission.
“We are disappointed that West Virginia remains an outlier in this area,” Foreman said. “Regulatory changes in the state must go through the legislature, which takes time, but we will continue to work with all parties to get this done.”
There is a strict prohibition on the use of bisphosphonates in all horses under the age of four throughout the region, with a total ban in place in Maryland and Pennsylvania. In May, the Mid Atlantic agreed to adopt restrictions on the use of thyroid supplements, now requiring that a horse be diagnosed with hypothyroidism through a thyroid releasing hormone stimulation test; the treatment plan must be reviewed and approved by the equine medical director or chief regulatory veterinarian in the state. In October, the group moved to restrict the use of clenbuterol. The new rule requires regulatory approval for treatment with clenbuterol, mandates that the horse be placed on the Veterinarian’s List, and bars the horse from racing until it tests negative in both blood and urine and completes a satisfactory workout observed by a regulatory veterinarian.
In addition to the regulatory changes, the Mid Atlantic has approved Best Practices in a dozen areas, including:
- Crisis Management Communication
- Equine Aftercare
- Layoff Report
- Pre-Race Inspections
- Safety Officer
- Shock Wave Therapy
Maryland led the charge on the mandatory Layoff Report, a standardized form that provides regulatory veterinarians with vital information for all horses that have not raced for 150 days or more, including the reason for the layoff, medication and joint injection records, and surgical reports. The Layoff Report has been fully implemented in Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia, and is in process throughout the Mid Atlantic.
The most high-profile of this year’s changes has been the crop rule. The stakeholders in support of the Strategic Plan created a Committee of 24 regulators and stewards to review the many proposals on the table. All interested parties were invited to participate, with the Jockeys’ Guild providing significant input during a series of conference calls. A draft was approved during a presentation to more than 50 representatives of the region’s racetracks, horsemen’s groups and regulatory agencies.
The draft underwent one final review after the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved a rule June 19, and was modified once more to align with provisions in the Kentucky rule. Starting Aug. 1, the rule went into effect in Delaware and Maryland. Pennsylvania followed suit in October. West Virginia has begun the legislative process necessary to adopt it in 2021.
“Uniformity has been a hallmark of the efforts in the Mid Atlantic for more than a decade, going back to the ban on anabolic steroids in 2008,” Foreman said. “Our annual Regulatory meetings have grown year after year, with the focus expanding from medication and testing to include equine welfare and racing integrity. The crop rule is a natural extension of our efforts. We felt it imperative to have a consistent crop rule in every jurisdiction, and we made every effort to ensure that all stakeholders had the chance to weigh in on it.”
A 30-page Strategic Plan Manual, still a work in progress, has been created as a reference for all Mid-Atlantic jurisdictions. There is also a Horsemen’s Guide to the Strategic Plan, providing an overview of the regulations and best practices that impact the day-to-day business of training Thoroughbred racehorses.
A second Guide outlines the Risk Factors that have been identified through Dr. Parkin’s work with the Equine Injury Database and the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation, which horsemen can use to assess their stable and modify care and treatment as necessary for horses at increased risk.
“From day one when concept of the Strategic Plan was first under discussion, this has been a collaborative effort, with all of our stakeholders focused on one thing – doing what is right by the horse,” said the Strategic Plan’s Project Manager, Andy Belfiore. “The level of dedication and the amount of time and energy devoted to this initiative from all involved has been remarkable. It has taken a lot of work from the regulators and the state veterinarians, to racetrack’s management teams, to the owners and trainers and jockeys, to get to where we are today.”
As the first phase of the Strategic Plan nears completion, the focus turns to the topics including the racetrack maintenance quality system; jockey health; the transfer of horse health records for all claimed horses; and continuing education.
Dr. Kelly Ryan of MedStar Horsemen’s Health in Maryland worked with HeadCheck Health to develop a system that establishes concussion protocols for jockeys, as well as providing a HIPAA-compliant portal for jockey health information, and a communications network to ensure that all racetracks on the system are notified if there is an accident or injury affecting a jockey’s status to ride. Maryland began a pilot program last fall, and Delaware Park enrolled its riders when racing resumed this spring. Additional jurisdictions are now working with HeadCheck to explore implementation, with the goal of having every Mid-Atlantic racetrack on the network by next year.
The Mid-Atlantic alliance unanimously approved a Continuing Education rule that will go into effect in 2021. Trainers and assistant trainers will have a year to fulfill the requirements, which include four hours annually of CE training, with a minimum of two hours to focus on equine health, safety and welfare. Fulfillment of CE requirements will be a condition of licensing in 2022 for all Mid-Atlantic states. New York already has a CE rule on the books, Maryland has begun the adoption process, West Virginia included it in its legislative package for 2021, and the remaining states have committed to adoption next year.
“New York has been a leader in many areas, including Continuing Education, but the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan is not about one jurisdiction calling the shots for the entire region,” Dr. Palmer concluded. “Working together, we have been able to reach consensus. We have right-minded people in the room who want to do the right thing, and we have a track record for getting things done. What we’ve accomplished is amazing, and we look forward to continued progress in the coming year.”