The never-ending quest in horse racing is to make it safer for its human and equine athletes.  Since 2009, the Equine Injury Database shows that significant improvements have been made, with the fatalities-per-1000-starts summary statistic on all kinds of surfaces (dirt, turf, and synthetic) decreasing from 2.0 in 2009 to 1.61 in 2017.

Data reported in The Chronicle of the Horse—in an article (May 21 & 28, 2018) by veterinarian William McCormick tilted “Sport Horse Injury Prevention and the Elephant in the Room”—raise answerable questions about causality of catastrophic injuries in horse racing.

Consider the findings of a 2017 study by Dr. Sue Dyson, who is the head of clinical orthopedics at Britain’s Animal Trust, pertaining to English sport horses: “Of 506 horses in work and thought to be sound, 47 percent were, in fact, lame.”

The Chronicle reported similar results in an unpublished study done at the aforementioned Dr. McCormick’s Middleburg, Virginia equine facility: “…of 563 sport horses presented for pre-purchase examination…at the Middleburg Equine Clinic…44 percent were lame.”

While these findings on sport horses cannot be extrapolated to racehorses, they do suggest potentially valuable research.  A scientific study at a representative cross-section of North American racetracks, conducted by a team of independent equine veterinarians, would provide empirical evidence on (a) the extent to which lame horses are being allowed to run in races and (b) whether fatalities might be curtailed further through more stringent pre-race exams and more scratches by the veterinarians employed by state racing commissions.

Such vets already screen entries, so the incidence of lame horses running races is likely to be nowhere near the 44 percent and the 47 percent found in the sport-horse studies in Great Britain and Virginia.  However, because racetracks are challenged to present bettors with full fields, it may be that track veterinarians generally have a bias toward letting questionable horses run.  If so, racetracks could mitigate the pressure vets feel to clear horses to race by cutting back on the number of live races to fill.

Most racetrack executives and the preponderance of track-employed vets would likely take some convincing that an independently and objectively conducted research study designed to determine the extent to which lame horses are running in races is in their best interests.  But it is certainly in the best interests of the horses and jockeys whose lives are on the line.

Copyright © 2018 Horse Racing Business


  1. This website has better articles than Blood Horse and TDN . They are too scared of advertisers to publish anything but fluff.