Research and innovation are critical to enhancing the safety, care and welfare of Victorian thoroughbreds during racing and in preparation for their lives after they leave the track.
To best meet the needs of our equine stars, Racing Victoria (RV) has dedicated resources within its veterinary services and equine welfare teams that work alongside industry experts, governments and leading educational institutions to transform lessons learned into new processes and initiatives for the industry.
RV’s commitment to research and innovation is aimed at improving the lives of every racehorse, streamlining integrity processes and delivering benefits to the racing industry.
This approach is highlighted by Victoria’s world-leading three-year $5.25 million Equine Limb Injury Prevention Program, jointly funded by RV, the University of Melbourne and the State Government.
The most significant research of its type in the world, the project is led by world renowned veterinarian Professor Chris Whitton, head of the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet Equine Centre in Werribee, and has recently had its funding extended by two years to 2022.
The research program aims to aid in the prevention and early detection of bone injuries to thoroughbred racehorses, with the goal of helping trainers calculate the safe levels of training for horses while maintaining fitness to reduce the incidence of injury.
The achievements of the research program at the end of its first round of three-year funding in 2019 are plentiful.
The notable findings include:
- Evidence that fractures are due to an accumulation of damage over time, demonstrating the potential for early detection and intervention;
- Evidence that high training workloads are not associated with success, indicating that the implementation of safer training methods will not impact training performance; and
- Evidence that better bone health leads to better performance, providing a clear incentive for trainers and owners to pursue practices that optimise skeletal health and prevent injury.
A number of significant findings are expected soon, following data collected as part of the research program from international and local horses who competed in the Spring Racing Carnival from 2017 to 2019. This will include recommendations relating to injury monitoring and the identification of at-risk racehorses.
The most significant investment as a result of the research program was a joint investment of nearly $1.3 million by RV, the University of Melbourne and the State Government to bring Australia’s first Standing CT Scanner to Melbourne in time for the 2019 Spring Racing Carnival to assist in the detection and prevention of serious equine injuries.
Again this year, horses engaged in the Stella Artois Caulfield Cup, Ladbrokes Cox Plate and Lexus Melbourne Cup will be subject to compulsory pre-race RV veterinary examinations. If a clinical issue is detected before or during these examinations that requires further investigation then the Standing CT Scanner is one diagnostic procedure available to RV and/or stable veterinarians.
If a horse has a medical history or traits that may give rise for concern upon examination, all trainers - international and local - are instructed to raise that with the RV veterinary team at the earliest opportunity to assist in analysis and decision making.
For horses seeking to race in Victoria, RV referrals to the Standing CT Scanner are made where the veterinary examinations warrant it, irrespective of who trains the horse and where it is domiciled.
Should a horse be referred for a Standing CT Scan, including by RV stewards acting on veterinary advice, then the results will be reviewed by a panel of veterinarians appointed by RV and constituted of no less than one specialist in equine surgery and one specialist in veterinary diagnostic imaging.
Where appropriate and necessary, that panel will also include additional RV-engaged international experts in imaging and limb injuries.
RV’s primary focus is on preventing catastrophic limb injuries and it makes no apologies for acting on expert veterinary advice that identifies heightened risk to the safety and wellbeing of an individual horse, its competitors and riders.
The Standing CT Scanner was utilised on 70 horses in its first 10 months, with 60 per cent of those active thoroughbred racehorses and 40 per cent from the equestrian community.
Traditional CT scanning has continued alongside this during the same period, particularly for the purposes of research into limb injury prevention.
The latest research from the University of Melbourne indicates that horses with an incomplete fracture detected on CT, such as Marmelo before the 2019 Melbourne Cup, are nine times more likely than those without one to have a complete fracture occur under exercise and without appropriate rest.
To find out more about the Standing CT Scanner and to understand if it can assist your horse, reach out to the U-Vet team via www.u-vet.com.au/equine or speak to the RV veterinary team on (03) 9258 4258.