The Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council met via Zoom on Friday, Sept. 23, to consider a pair of research proposals aimed at improving racehorse welfare. The council will reconvene to vote on the following two proposals at a later date.
“Identifying Racehorses in Danger of Catastrophic Injury Through Analysis of Motion Sensor Data Collected During Training and Racing”
Dr. Warwick Bayly and Dr. David Lambert proposed that wearable technology be utilized during an upcoming race meet at Churchill Downs to develop a protocol by which horses at high risk for a fatal musculoskeletal injury are identified within five minutes of the end of a race, in a way that is both financially and logistically tolerable for all parties.
The technology was employed beginning at Saratoga in 2021 and continued at Belmont and Aqueduct, as detailed by Dr. Scott Palmer, equine medical director of the New York State Gaming Commission, during the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit this June. It consists of StrideSafe sensor which can be placed in the horse’s saddle cloth, and measures acceleration in three dimensions. Each horse has a different pattern or “fingerprint” at high speeds that would be described as normal; the data becomes most useful when it can be compared to both a horse’s normal pattern during races and morning workouts as well as a standard of “sound” horses.
Based on existing data, Bayly expects a study of 2,000 horses to generate 240 “red flag” horses, which may be at risk. The study would specifically look at those red-flagged horses that generate a welfare value of six or greater; in other words, horses whose data is six or more standard deviations away from the mean. Approximately 20 of the 240 red-flagged horses would be expected to have a welfare index of six or higher.
Dr. Sue Stover, professor of surgical and radiological science at the University of California-Davis, has long been one of the foremost researchers into catastrophic injuries in racing, bolstered by years of data gathered by the California Horse Racing Board. She’s also the chair of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority’s racetrack safety standing committee and a member of the HISA board. She estimates that of those 20 with welfare indexes above six, 10 would require advanced imaging to be diagnosed (either nuclear scintigraphy or a PET scan). The study would provide a $1,500 subsidy to encourage such diagnostics.
The study would also include teaching regulatory veterinarians how to interpret the data generated by the sensor, and in knowing where to start looking at a horse if the lameness can’t be seen with the human eye.
“Tackling Emerging Threats to the Kentucky Racing Industry by Development of an Equine Gene Doping Program”
Dr. Scott Stanley’s proposal is aimed at working toward identifying the abuse of gene doping to enhance athletic ability in equines.
Human medicine is currently able to identify transgenes in humans; gene doping has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since 2003 under the position that transgenes threaten the integrity of sports competition.
Among the potential applications of gene doping in equines are: increased muscle mass, shortened healing time, increased aerobic metabolism, and increased pain tolerance and overall endurance.
Stanley proposed a two-year project which includes two aims: first, to adapt the existing digital droplet PCR technology to identify equine transgenes, and second, to utilize the ddPCR to validate specific gene doping targets in horses.