PA Horse Racing – Ensuring the Safety and Integrity of Racing Every Day
Pennsylvania’s horse racing and breeding industries provide tens of thousands of jobs in Pennsylvania, plus billions in annual statewide economic impact. At Grantville’s Penn National Race Course, as is the case at all six of Pennsylvania’s race tracks, there are no bigger priorities than the integrity of racing, and the safety of the athletes, both equine and human.
Among the many protocols which ensure the sport’s integrity are stringent horse identification procedures. No horse can compete without a foal certificate – which is not unlike a human’s birth certificate – from The Jockey Club. It lists various identifying markings and colors on the horse’s body. More importantly, the foal certificate has the horse’s ID tattoo. Prior to a horse entering the paddock, he is carefully inspected by Ed Henry, Penn National’s horse identifier, who matches those markings and colors, as well as the tattoo, inside the horse’s upper lip.
Veterinary oversight is another crucial, everyday activity, particularly on race day, which begins with a morning checkup of every horse competing that night. “I use hands to palpate the legs and flex them,” says Dr. John Polowczyk, a veterinarian with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. “I then have the trainer take them for a short trot, where there will be multiple opportunities to look for any small injuries that might hurt the horse during the race.”
Vets monitor the horse a minimum of four times on race day. After their morning checkup the horses are under the watchful eye of a second veterinarian when they are being saddled in the paddock, just prior to the race. A third vet will then look over each horse at the starting gate. Finally, the vets from the paddock and the starting gate will both look at the horses as they gallop out during the postrace, and as they are unsaddled.
Beyond that, the winner of each race, as well as several horses selected at random, will visit the test barn before they can be returned to their stalls. There, yet another vet is watching those horses cool out, as well as drawing blood and urine samples, which are securely transferred to the University of Pennsylvania’s Equine Toxicology and Research Laboratory (PETRL).
“We pledge ourselves to the health and welfare of our animal patients,” says Dr. David Marshall, a Commonwealth of Pennsylvania veterinarian. “Safety is paramount. The thoroughbred horse loves to run, and people like myself here at Penn National are dedicated to the health and welfare of the equine athlete.” Dr. Marshall continues, “We are putting out a clean and respected athletic event; as clean as any athletic event in the world.”
Dr. Mary Robinson, acting director of PETRL has numbers to back Dr. Marshall’s claim. “Out of the 35,000 samples that we test on a yearly basis,” says Dr. Robinson, “only about 0.4 percent have a finding, so that means that 99.6 percent of everything we’re testing comes out negative. And about 95 percent of that 0.4 percent are therapeutic medications.”
Dr. Robinson states that horse testing is actually much more sophisticated than human testing. “We are now able to detect a single grain of table salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool,” explains Dr. Robinson.
All in all, it’s an ongoing daily effort, fully supported by the racetracks, the horsemen’s groups, and the state regulators to make sure that every reasonable precaution – and beyond – is in place to prioritize horse racing’s safety and integrity.
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