This year’s Association of Racing Commissioners International (ARCI) conference was packed with perspectives, both an analysis of where racing regulation is now and a look at where it could be headed in the future. with the upcoming implementation of the Horse Racing Integrity and Management Act. Security Act (HISA).
Much of that analysis focused on something most regulators love: data.
Some key statistics from the first two days of the conference:
- ARCI President Ed Martin provided a summary of the 2021 drug testing numbers for the United States. Figures are complete for all states except Texas, as ARCI is still working to validate those numbers. Last year, 243,627 post-race and out-of-competition tests were administered in horse racing breeds, with 1,150 adverse results resulting in regulatory action. Of those, 1,021 findings were in post-race samples; 765 in flat races and 256 in trotters.
Nineteen states conducted 6,156 out-of-competition tests (OOCTs) on horses last year.
Among the post-race tests, 99.57% of the samples were clean, while 97.9% of the OOCTs were clean.
Of the positive tests, 2.4 percent of the positive flat-racing tests and 4.7 percent of the positive harness tests involved Class 1 substances. As in previous years, the majority of the positive tests were for therapeutic drugs.
Although Martin acknowledged that there are many who believe there are performance-enhancing drugs that can escape the regulatory testing system, he noted that the rate of positive tests for horse racing last year is about the same as the Anti-Doping Agency’s USA, suggesting that the findings in racing appear to be on the way to the most comparable system for human sports. (In 2019, USADA’s annual report indicated that it issued 49 citations and conducted 7,336 blood and urine tests.)
- Dr. Scott Palmer, equine medical director for the New York State Gaming Commission, gave a summary of drug testing and death figures for the Mid-Atlantic racing states. He said that in 2021, there were no positive results out of 1,879 OOCTs conducted in the region, and 164 positive results out of 42,961 post-race tests. As with the national numbers, the majority of these, 72 percent, were therapeutic findings.
Palmer said there has been a 59 percent reduction in positive drug tests overall from 2016 to 2021, though he attributes some of that to reduced testing in 2020 due to COVID-19.
- Palmer also presented data showing that, like the rest of the country, the Mid-Atlantic states have improved death rates in recent years. Fatalities are down 41 percent since 2012, although the number of starts in the same period is down 22 percent.
As is also true of California, which has been collecting equine fatality data longer than any other state, Palmer said racetrack fatalities fall roughly equally into three categories: racing, training or ‘other,’ which includes illnesses or accidents that do not take place during exercise. For whatever reason, racing fatalities accounted for a slightly larger share of the pie in the Mid-Atlantic in 2021, up around 8.2 percent.
The Mid-Atlantic mortality rate is still above the national average.
- Dr. Sue Stover, a renowned researcher at the University of California-Davis and chair of HISA’s Standing Committee on Racetrack Safety, presented sobering figures on US death rates compared to other countries. Data from 2019 showed that while the US had an equine mortality rate of 1.62 per 1,000 starts, the UK’s rate was 0.80, Hong Kong’s was 0.60 and Australia’s it was 0.43. However, with the recent release of the 2021 Equine Injury Database figures, Stover noted that rates in the US are improving: the national rate was 1.39 per 1,000 starts in this country. last year, continuing the downward trend seen since the EID first began collecting data.
We also know from research by Stover et al. that 85 to 90 percent of catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries occur in areas later found at autopsy to have pre-existing findings.
Stover noted that this likely means the horses’ bones are overloaded during training and don’t have time to properly recover before experiencing other stress. Exercise of any kind creates micro-damage to bone, which is ideally repaired when osteoclasts remove damaged bone and osteoblasts build new, stronger bone at the site. This is how skeletons develop and adapt to work. The difficulty is that the work of the skeleton to remove the damaged bone is much shorter (two to three weeks) compared to the process of forming new bone in that space (up to three months), so there is a delay in the location of previous damage. weak.
Stover thinks there are probably two time points within each of these processes that are key; a horse may sustain a minor overuse injury and immediately afterward may (or may not) show signs of lameness or discomfort. Two to three weeks later, the horse’s pain is likely gone as the damaged bone has been removed and the repair process has begun, but the horse is still vulnerable because the new bone has not yet been added. Additional concussion during this time can slow down the repair process even more. Fatal injuries are likely to occur in this time lag, which also explains why they can occur in horses that had appeared healthy in the days leading up to their race.
- For Stover, the key to preventing injuries is pinpointing where a given horse is in the repair process. That may mean using advanced imaging technology to diagnose a mild lameness (early in the repair process). It may also mean reducing risk factors that we know may cause the repair process to take longer or stress damage to progress.
There is also research showing that the rate of accumulation of high-speed furlongs (in timed races or jobs) may also be related to injury risk, but it is unclear where the “sweet spot” is for proper adaptation without overloading the skeleton Probably, Stover said, because there are many other factors that can affect the amount of stress a bone is put under. The data show that the magnitude of load carried by a limb is affected by surface type, surface maintenance, conformation, and footwear.