Tragic news over the weekend of the demise of another talented racehorse in America’s premier event, the Kentucky Derby. The filly, Eight Belles, was euthanased after breaking both front legs post-race; having run second in the race. The incident once again raises questions as to the adequacy of racehorse trainers’ diagnostic systems. As technology progresses, the well-being of horses, jockeys and exercise riders can be maintained through diligent screening for niggling injuries and pre-cursors to potentially fatal tragedies. As The New York Times reports:
John Ward, a third-generation horseman who trained the 2001 Derby winner, Monarchos, says the industry must continue working on technologies that can screen horses more closely before they go into competition.
He told a story of a 3-year-old filly who was promising as a 2-year-old but had not seemed to be her best. An early set of X-rays did not show any injuries. When Ward sent her to the Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for more sophisticated full-body tests, veterinarians found she had microfractures in three of her ankles.
“She was a catastrophe waiting to happen, and she had never spent an unsound day in her life,” Ward said. “We have got to start examining these animals at the molecular level, and protect them.”
Clearly, the increasingly widespread availability and accessibility of such technology makes it incumbent upon trainers, and possibly racing boards, to monitor and screen horses for pre-existing injuries prior to competing, particularly horses with any prior history of unsoundness. A number of diagnostic tools, ranging from small non-contact laser thermometers to infrared thermography, ultrasound, x-ray and bone density scanning, are available at lower and lower costs to trainers. When lives are at stake, why not engage all possible preventative measures in the interests of preserving not only the reputation of racing in the eyes of the public, but also the lifeblood of the industry: the horses and jockeys at centre-stage?