With last weekend’s arrival of the first imported European horses of 2019 into quarantine at the Werribee International Horse Centre (WIHC), Racing Victoria (RV) on Wednesday provided an overview of new initiatives being undertaken to minimise the occurrence of serious injuries, particularly among international horses.
The initiatives flow from a review undertaken by RV, who sought contributions from a range of stakeholders including the University of Melbourne (UoM), into the rate of serious injuries among international horses travelling down under to compete in Victoria’s premier races.
The review was initiated following the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival which included a fatal injury to the Irish-trained The Cliffsofmoher in the Melbourne Cup and fatal injuries during training at WIHC to international horses Hamada and The Pentagon.
Over the five Victorian Spring Racing Carnivals from 2013-2017, the WIHC housed an average of 21 horses each year before doubling to 42 for the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival.
The review ultimately found that there was no increase in the rate of fatal or non-fatal injuries among international horses over the past decade and that it was the volume of horses that led to the increased number in 2018.
With the industry continually working towards zero racing fatalities, a series of initiatives have or are being implemented off the back of the review with the aim of reducing the rate of serious injuries among the international horses. They are:
Technology and Research
The review found that the available technology at the time could not have reasonably predicted the fatal injuries to international horses that have occurred over the Spring Racing Carnival since 2010, including The Cliffsofmoher. Therefore, the following has been initiated:
• World-leading scanning technology – As part of its ongoing equine limb injury research, RV, UoM and the State Government are investing $1.27 million in the purchase and construction of a standing CT scanner at the UoM’s Werribee equine clinic. The first of its kind in Australia, the scanner is designed to help in the early detection of limb injuries that have the potential to become serious or fatal. Once operational, the scanner will be available for use as required by RV and stable veterinarians and serves as a long-term investment in the health of the Victorian equine community. The state-of-the-art equipment is currently en route to Melbourne with all stakeholders striving to have it operational ahead of this year’s marquee spring races;
• International travel study – In the absence of appropriate information, a joint RV-UoM study is being conducted into the effects that long distance travel can have on a horse’s muscular-skeletal system; and
• Workload research – New tracking technologies are being considered to better monitor the workloads of international horses at WIHC to obtain a greater understanding for future research and analysis.
These initiatives complement a diverse range of equine research programs being funded by RV, including the $5.25 million Limb Injury Prevention Project between RV, UoM and the State Government which is aimed at the early detection and prevention of bone injuries in thoroughbred racehorses.
Enhanced examinations and diagnostic testing will occur on the basis that it may help identify issues that have the potential to become serious injuries. These include:
• Feature race examinations – The Caulfield Cup and Cox Plate will this year join the Melbourne Cup in the requirement for all starters to pass a compulsory RV pre-race veterinary examination;
• Enhanced pre-export examinations – All international horses will now be required to supply the following to the satisfaction of RV veterinarians before being permitted to enter quarantine and travel to the WIHC:
a. X-rays of the horse’s legs;
b. A video of the horse trotting up for examination;
c. A pre-travel examination by the stable vet; and
d. An examination by an independent regulatory vet; and
• More diagnostic testing – International horses that incur a setback in training or have recovered from serious historical injuries will be subject to greater diagnostic testing as and when required to ensure their suitability to race.
Werribee International Horse Centre (WIHC)
While the review found that there was no evidence to suggest that the WIHC’s training tracks contributed directly to any injuries, the following enhancements have been implemented:
• Refurbished track - A refurbishment of the sand-fibre training track has been undertaken in preparation for this spring;
• Better examination facilities - The introduction of large concrete strips in each of the three stabling compounds to assist in the conduct of veterinary examinations;
• Consolidated training hours - A planned reduction in daily training hours to assist in maintaining a softer track rating for all horses; and
• Track management – The introduction of an August shipment for imported horses to assist in managing the spread of work across the turf track to maintain it in a desired condition throughout spring.
The review endorsed the position that the presentation of softer racing surfaces has the potential to reduce the incidence of injuries among all horses:
• New Track Preparation Guidelines – New guidelines requiring tracks to be prepared with more give in the interests of horse welfare were introduced statewide by RV on 1 August 2019. Under the guidelines tracks should be a ‘Good 4’ for at least the first race of the meeting and never reach a ‘Firm’ rating.
The outcome of a review into The Cliffsofmoher’s fatal injury in the 2018 Melbourne Cup was published in January 2019 and found that:
• The Cliffsofmoher sustained a fracture to the right shoulder and that, on all the available information, no party could have predicted the injury was going to occur prior to the race;
• The RV veterinary team made the correct decision, and the kindest one for the horse, in electing to euthanise The Cliffsofmoher in a timely manner on the day; and
• Based on the nature of the injury and the information obtained during the review, there was no evidence to suggest that the Flemington track, which was rated a Soft 6 following heavy rainfall, was a contributing factor.
“The welfare of our participants, equine and human, is a priority for the industry and we are continually reviewing and exploring opportunities to further the safety of our sport which is not without risks," said RV Executive General Manager – Integrity Services, Jamie Stier.
“As a result of the injury rate among international horses during the 2018 Spring Racing Carnival, we rightly committed to reviewing the circumstances of these matters.
“The review, which sought contributions from a range of stakeholders including the University of Melbourne, ultimately found that there was no sole contributing factor to the incidents of 2018 and equally no one initiative that would eliminate any prospect of it occurring again.
“Throughout the review process we identified a series of initiatives and activities that we can undertake to potentially help our efforts to minimise the occurrence of serious and fatal injuries.
“These initiatives include investing in state-of-the-art technology, further research programs, enhanced veterinary examinations, the refurbishment and upgrade of infrastructure and the endorsement of new industry guidelines requiring tracks to be presented with more give in the interests of horse welfare.
“Together with the University of Melbourne and the State Government, we’re bringing the first standing CT scanner to Australia to help further the possibility of identifying issues that have the potential to become serious or fatal limb injuries.
“This state-of-the-art technology, to be located at the University of Melbourne’s equine clinic, will be one of only three standing CT scanners for horses of its kind in the world and is a long-term investment in the welfare of our horses.
“All stakeholders are striving to have it operational ahead of our marquee spring races, at which point it will be available for use by Racing Victoria and stable veterinarians, along with the broader equine community.”