‘The More Information, The Better’ For Veterinarians Trying To Keep Racehorses Safe

New regulations requiring veterinarians and trainers to file and keep medical records on a horse in training may seem like a lot of extra paperwork, but regulatory veterinarians say it makes a big difference in their ability to keep horses safe.

In a video conference held as part of this year’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, Drs. Dionne Benson, Ryan Carpenter, Scott Palmer and Will Farmer gathered to discuss the advantages and challenges to veterinary records reporting.

“For me, it’s real simple: I think the regulatory body in whatever state you’re working in should have access to everything you do,” said Carpenter, who was the only private practice racetrack veterinarian on the panel. “I think you have to be very accurate in how you report your information, and not only in the paper format that we turn into the CHRB but also in conversations that take place with the regulatory vets. I’ve found that’s the best way to establish a working relationship that puts the horses best interests [at the forefront].

“We’ve all seen those horses that might have something questionable in a pre-race examination but when you have a working relationship with the regulatory veterinarians and they’ve seen your approach over the weeks leading up to that race, you can give them great conference that horse is not a net risk individual by sharing everything you’ve done.”

The panel agreed there is a difference between what information trainers and veterinarians should have to make available to regulatory veterinarians and what they should expect to provide to the public.

“That’s tough because there are a lot of conversations between the owner, trainer and veterinarian on that horse and without the context of the conversation, it gets lost,” said Carpenter. “People can start drawing inferences and assumptions that aren’t true or correct because it tells the story they may want to tell.”

Carpenter said he would be in favor of the public having access to summaries of a horse’s medical situation, when appropriate.

There are differences between what commissions and racing associations receive. Benson, as chief veterinary officer for The Stronach Group, and Farmer, as equine medical director for Churchill Downs Inc., do not see daily treatment sheets showing what medications a veterinarian has given a horse. They may have access to information about a horse’s pre-race or pre-workout examinations, but that doesn’t provide the whole picture.

Then there’s the question of sorting through large amounts of data. Farmer pointed out there are some 2,000 horses on track at Santa Anita and 1,400 at Churchill Downs, so daily records for each horse – which may be handwritten – can take time to decipher. Farmer is hopeful there will one day be a digital medical record to streamline the process for regulatory and private practice veterinarians.

Of course, veterinary records typically aren’t published. One exception to this is for horses entered in graded stakes races worth $1 million or more in the 72 hours leading up to the race. Treating veterinarians of those horses are required to submit daily treatment sheets to the gaming commission which are published on the commission’s website daily ahead of those races.

For Palmer, the requirement those sheets be made public was a good opportunity to start a dialogue with veterinarians and trainers about appropriate pre-race treatments.

“What we found when we first did this was there was a whole litany of treatments being put in there and actually under diagnosis there were comments like ‘At the trainer’s request,’” said Palmer. “It became necessary for me to remind veterinarians that being in a Grade 1 race with a purse of $1 million or more was not a medical condition. That changed the whole paradigm – when you have to publish this information for the general public, you have to have a diagnosis. I had a lot of conversations with the practitioners about this and we all got on the same page.

“I can tell you categorically that in the last six years this form has dramatically reduced the amount of medication being given to a horse within 72 hours of a race.”

Benson said she and others have had questions about how commissions or racing authorities can enforce a requirement that those records be accurate. Out-of-competition testing can help with that.

According to Palmer, if an out-of-competition test shows a permitted therapeutic substance that isn’t on the records already submitted to the New York State Gaming Commission, commission authorities will do some investigation and may consider that a violation of the rule. The same thing would happen if a post-race drug test triggered a finding, or if a trainer’s barn were investigated for some other reason. Eventually, lax or false record-keeping can catch up to horsemen in a big way.

“I think these things are enforceable; it’s not a perfect system, but it’s a good system,” said Palmer.

In some places, trainers are now required to keep their own records of what drugs or treatments a horse has had, and must make those available to commission officials if asked. Carpenter said he has become aware some outside the track imagine those treatments to be significant.

“There’s this perception trainers are just giving medications at a whim,” said Carpenter. “That’s really not true. What’s happened is, over the course of, honestly, decades, we’ve developed a working relationship.

“Should a trainer just have access to the back of a veterinary truck to do what they want? Absolutely not. But when they work in concert with their veterinarian, I think a lot of those decisions are being made in a very constructive manner.”

A sample of the form veterinarians will soon be asked to fill out when a horse is claimed

The group agreed that the transfer of medical records in the event of a claim is important. Data from the Equine Injury Database shows that a horse’s risk of fatal injury is increased for at least 30 days after they transfer barns. Palmer showed the panel a form recently approved by the Mid-Atlantic racing authorities to be used by treating veterinarians for claimed horses. The form includes spaces for most recent dates for vaccines, deworming, shockwave treatments, bloodwork, radiographs, intra-articular injections, and more.

Carpenter urged the group and the audience to think about the usefulness of a horse’s medical record as extending beyond its time on the racetrack.

“I think it begins on the farm, to be honest with you,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that take place, prepping a horse for a yearling or a 2-year-old in-training sale that would be very valuable for a racetrack practitioner. Sometimes we deal with the end product of the sales arena. I think the underlying tone of what we’re hearing today, is the more information, the better.”

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