The Modern Equine Vet
August 2023
Vol 13 Issue 8 2023
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News Notes

UC Davis Efforts Contribute to Continued Decline in California Racehorse Fatalities

By Amy Young, UC Davis

The number of racehorse fatalities in the 2022-23 fiscal year continues to decline, according to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB).

Fatalities have been trending downward since 2005, with the recent report totaling 26 fatalities resulting from musculoskeletal injuries that occurred while racing or training at CHRB-regulated facilities (compared with 39 the previous year). According to the CHRB, 30,000 race starts and more than 100,000 workouts occur across 8,000 to 10,000 horses annually.

Long-standing efforts between the CHRB and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine have built on past successes to benefit equine welfare and safety.

From research programs to testing facilities, UC Davis is integral to advances in racehorse health and injury prevention. The school is home to the J.D. Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, where Dr. Susan Stover’s group has characterized changes in proximal sesamoid bones that put racehorses at risk for catastrophic fracture. These data, combined with standing equine positron emission tomography (PET) scanning, pioneered by at UC Davis by Dr. Mathieu Spriet, now allows at-risk horses to be identified and successfully rehabilitated for return to training and competition.

The California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory at UC Davis is home to the CHRB Post-mortem and the Kenneth L. Maddy Equine Chemistry Laboratory. The Post-mortem Examination Program provides necropsies (animal autopsies) for every horse that dies or is euthanized at CHRB racetracks and training facilities. The Maddy Laboratory is the CHRB’s primary drug-testing laboratory. The laboratory, which is part of the California Animal Health and Food Safety Laboratory System and is co-managed by professors Benjamin Moeller and Heather Knych, tests more than 40,000 samples from California racehorses annually.

In combination, these programs have provided valuable insights into the causes of racehorse injuries, as well as science-based approaches to improvements in injury detection and prevention. MeV