Racing Victoria (RV) has today announced that the 2022 Spring Racing Carnival will again feature world leading safety standards for horses with the release of stringent veterinary protocols for international and local competitors.
The announcement reaffirms Victorian racing’s ongoing commitment to minimising the risk of injuries, particularly among international horses travelling to compete in Victoria and for all horses contesting the Melbourne Cup.
The confirmation of the 2022 veterinary protocols follows the completion of a detailed review of the 2021 Spring Racing Carnival and the implementation therein of wide-ranging recommendations aimed at reducing the risk of injuries.
The objective of the review, which was led by RV’s international working group including integrity, veterinary, equine welfare, and racing experts, was to examine the effectiveness of the ground-breaking veterinary protocols introduced in 2021; to consider any learnings obtained via their implementation; and to analyse any significant developments in research and technology.
In conducting the review, RV engaged with a broad range of stakeholders, including Australian and international private veterinarians; international regulatory veterinarians; Australian and international trainers, jockeys, and owners; primary service providers, including those involved in applying the protocols; and Victoria’s metropolitan racing clubs.
Upon recommendation of the international working group, the RV Board has endorsed the retention of the following primary veterinary protocols for horses competing in the 2022 Spring Racing Carnival:
a) All international horses must undergo a Computed Tomography (CT) scan of their distal limbs, or where CT is not available Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of their distal limbs, prior to travelling to Australia;
b) Following their arrival in Australia, all international horses must undergo a CT scan prior to each start during the Spring Racing Carnival;
c) All horses – international and local – must undergo a CT scan of their distal limbs before being permitted to compete in the Melbourne Cup. This scan must again be conducted after the Caulfield Cup race meeting;
d) A panel of RV-appointed international experts in equine surgery and/or veterinary diagnostic imaging will again review all scans and help determine a horse’s suitability to travel to Victoria via the Werribee International Horse Centre and/or race during the Spring Racing Carnival; and
e) All Melbourne Cup starters will undergo two pre-race inspections by a panel of RV veterinarians, the first on the Thursday/Friday prior to the race and the second on the day prior (Monday).
Upon recommendation of the international working group, the RV Board also endorsed updates to several veterinary protocols for international horses seeking to compete in Victoria year-round, together with potential enhancements to the veterinary technology in place within the state as follows:
f) Any international horse that leaves an Australian quarantine facility after 1 August, being the commencement of the racing season, may have only one race start in Australia prior to competing in the Melbourne Cup of that season;
g) Regardless of the time of year, any international horse that enters Australia via a non-RV quarantine centre, principally Canterbury Racecourse (NSW) and Mickleham (VIC), will require RV veterinary approval to start in a trial or race in Victoria within 10 weeks of departing post-arrival quarantine in Australia. The approval process will include a detailed veterinary report, two inspections by an RV-appointed veterinarian and a CT scan of the horse’s distal limbs. Should the results indicate that the horse is at heightened risk of a serious injury, the RV veterinary team may also request a scintigraphy scan. These inspections and scans may be conducted outside of Victoria; and
h) The exploration of situating a second standing CT scanner within Victoria and the introduction of an Australian-first portable Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanner subject to necessary approvals and operating agreements. If introduced, such technology would serve to expand the capabilities of RV’s year-round Subsidised Diagnostic Imaging Program for locally trained horses (colloquially known as ‘Medicare for Horses’), in addition to building further capability for future Spring Racing Carnivals.
Upon recommendation of the international working group, the RV Board has also endorsed the use of scintigraphy scans in a targeted manner from 2022 onwards for international horses travelling to Victoria via the Werribee International Horse Centre as opposed to a blanket order.
The RV veterinary team will focus the use of scintigraphy scans on international horses where their mandatory CT or MRI scans; veterinary history; racing history; and/or pre-travel inspections indicate that the horse may be at a heightened risk of sustaining a serious injury.
This change aligns European horses with Japanese horses where a discretionary protocol was in place for 2021 due to the absence of such technology in Japan.
The adoption of a targeted approach considers both the benefits and challenges of utilising scintigraphy scans on racehorses in active training, along with analysis of scintigraphy results from the 2021 Spring Racing Carnival and of ongoing research into the prevalent causes of serious injuries in racehorses.
This includes the greater benefits of mandatory CT scanning – which caters best to the detection of the most prevalent causes of serious injuries in racehorses – on average one week prior to a race compared to scintigraphy scans which may be conducted up to three months prior to an international horse starting in Victoria.
As part of the change to discretionary scintigraphy scans, the following veterinary protocols have also been enhanced for international horses seeking to compete in the 2022 Spring Racing Carnival:
i) An increase in the number of pre-travel veterinary inspections of international horses from two to three. These inspections will be conducted by an RV-appointed overseas veterinarian, with two prior to the horse entering pre-export quarantine and the third while the horse is in pre-export quarantine;
j) Circumstances permitting with the resumption of international travel, an RV veterinarian who will be charged with examining horses post-arrival at the Werribee International Horse Centre will attend one pre-travel veterinary inspection in the horse’s homeland; and
k) An enhanced use of technology in pre-travel inspections through the introduction of a digital gait analysis system which will be fitted to the horse across each of the three veterinary inspections to help detect lameness and identify any changes in its gait between them.
Quotes attributable to RV Chief Executive, Giles Thompson
“Our number one priority is the safety of horses and riders, and we make no apology for implementing and maintaining world leading safety standards that are aimed at reducing the risk of injuries as we saw in 2021 with a Spring Racing Carnival and Melbourne Cup free of serious injuries.
“When we introduced the new veterinary protocols last year we committed to a thorough process after the Spring Carnival to review their implementation; consider any learnings and participant feedback; and to understand any advancements in technology and research that may be of further benefit.
“Our international working group recommended that, to remain at the forefront of safety in world racing, Victoria should continue the mandatory CT or MRI scanning of all international horses before travelling to Australia; and CT scanning of all horses, both local and international, prior to the Melbourne Cup.
“They also recommended enhancements to our protocols through an increase in the number of pre-travel veterinary inspections for an international horse and the introduction of new gait analysis technology, along with enhanced veterinary oversight of horses travelling to Australia via alternate quarantine centres.
“Upon review of the use of scintigraphy scans, it was determined that they now be used in a discretionary manner by our veterinary team in circumstances where the mandatory CT scans; veterinary history; racing history; and/or pre-travel inspections of any international horse indicate that it may be at a heightened risk of a serious injury. In doing so, our vets will remain vigilant and not hesitate to use a scintigraphy scan where needed to protect the safety of horses and riders.
“The Board has adopted the recommended veterinary protocols for 2022 in the knowledge that they collectively represent a strengthened and comprehensive strategy to reduce the risk of serious injuries in racehorses, in particular among internationals travelling to Victoria.
“In making this announcement, I would reiterate that we remain focused on attracting the best horses, trainers and jockeys to compete in Victoria, as we do on ensuring that those visiting compete safely and return home in good health.
“International participation has been a feature of our Spring Racing Carnival for close to 30 years, and the win of State of Rest in last year’s Cox Plate demonstrated both the competitiveness of international horses in our elite races and their ability to travel here, satisfy our veterinary protocols and perform at an elite level.”