Breeders’ Cup Safety: Wildfire Monitoring, Hair Testing, And New Diagnostics

As wildfires continue to burn in Southern California, officials at Santa Anita Park say frequent checks on air quality are part of their safety protocols for this year’s Breeders’ Cup. The Getty fire, which is near the art museum of the same name, is about 30 miles away from the track. The Easy fire is in the Simi Valley, which is farther to the northeast, about 50 miles from the track.

So far, California Horse Racing Board equine medical director Dr. Rick Arthur said air quality indicators in the Arcadia area are good.

“Heretofore, all the fires are downwind from us, and the LA basin has very good air quality monitoring information,” Arthur said.

Representatives from the Breeders’ Cup, Santa Anita, and the CHRB held a press conference Wednesday on safety protocols in place for this year’s races. (Details about veterinary checks and other procedures here.)

One ongoing initiative is the acquisition of more imaging modalities for use at the track. The Stronach Group secured the first PET scanner for use on horses without anesthesia, and a MRI and standing CT could be on the way.

Dr. Dionne Benson, chief veterinary officer for The Stronach Group, said she hopes that new imaging technology can be used both by regulatory veterinarians testing horses’ soundness, and by private veterinarians who are diagnosing a horse.

“We’re going to have to have a little bit of a learning curve,” said Benson. “When we start doing these scans, those things will take some time to not just perform the tests but to learn what they mean.”

Many imaging technologies like the new PET scanner take a long time to gather their imagery and therefore cannot be used to screen every horse on the grounds on a daily or weekly basis. (Learn more about the uses and challenges of routine imaging here.)

Benson said The Stronach Group is working with equine health experts in New York and Kentucky as it attempts to secure a standing CT machine to make sure everyone is using the same equipment. This will not only help images to be comparable in a horse’s health record, but will also let veterinarians collaborate as they try to learn how best to use those images on the racetrack.

Also at Wednesday’s conference, Breeders’ Cup announced this year’s out-of-competition testing program included hair testing for the first time. Hair samples were taken from roughly 10 percent of the competitors sampled, and about 10 percent of 2-year-old competitors were tested for bisphosphonates. Current testing technology can detect bisphosphonate use within 28 days.

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