Australian Study Examines Where Horses Go When They Don’t Make It To The Starting Gate

Scientists at the University of Melbourne created a study to determine why some Australian Thoroughbreds did not enter race training. Drs. Meredith Flash, Adelene Wong, Mark Stevenson and James Gilkerson examined the records of Thoroughbreds born in 2014 to determine how many horses had not entered race training by the end of their 4-year-old season (August of 2018).

They discovered that 13,677 Thoroughbreds were born in 2014. Of those, 66 percent started training and 51 percent had raced before the beginning of their 4-year-old season in Australia. The scientists chose a geographically diverse sample of 4,124 horses to use as part of a study. Of those, 1,275 horses had not entered race training.

Breeders of the 1,275 horses that had not entered race training were sent an online survey, then received a follow-up call to discover what happened to the horses. Fifty percent of the breeders responded. The researchers discovered that each horse fell into one of four categories:

  • Alive and active within the Thoroughbred racing industry
  • Alive and active outside of the Thoroughbred racing industry
  • Exported
  • Deceased

The scientists discovered that 154 horses were actively training or racing and 84 horses had been sold at a public or private sale. Many breeders indicated that they were not sure what happened to the horse once it sold. Only one horse was reported as exported.

There were 83 horses reported as retired or rehomed, with 61 percent of these never having any official training. Illness or injury and then poor performance were cited as the main reasons for retirement.

The reports discovered that 239 horses had died, with just over half dying in the first year of their lives of reported congenital malformation. In total, 73 percent of the horses that died passed before they turned 2 years old; these horses were not eligible to start in a race when they died.

Twenty horses had owners that were still intending to race them; the fate of the final 35 horses was unknown, meaning the owners stated they could not remember, did not know or did not choose a response.

The scientists extrapolated the results and concluded that most Thoroughbred deaths in the 2014 foal crop were related to non-training illnesses or injuries. They suggest that research into farm design and infrastructure might provide information to lower the fatality risk to horses. They also note that while official race records indicate the number of horses that start, data underestimates the percentage of foals that enter training.

Read more at HorseTalk.

Read the study here.

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