Bramlage, McIlwraith on Santa Anita: A Combination of Factors to Blame

POSTED ON  |  06-07-2019

Santa Anita
A collection of factors ranging from racing surface to perception of soundness could have contributed to the 30 horse fatalities at California’s Santa Anita Park, say two world-renowned racehorse health experts. But, they suggest, there are ways the industry can combat such issues—from canceling racing when conditions dictate to more frequent and detailed lameness examinations.

In June 2019 the Colorado State University (CSU) Translational Medicine Institute posted a video featuring a discussion between Larry Bramlage, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS, an equine orthopedic surgeon and shareholder at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, and C. Wayne McIlwraith, BVSc, PhD, DSc, FRCVS, Dipl. ACVS, an equine orthopedic surgeon and a University Distinguished Professor and Barbara Cox Anthony University Chair in Orthopaedics at CSU—on its YouTube channel. The two talked about the Santa Anita catastrophic injuries and other industry controversies such as race-day medications and uniform drug rules.

‘A Combination of Factors’
Thirty horses have died or been euthanized due to injuries sustained during racing or training at Santa Anita since just before the new year. Theories and debate about what caused the cluster of catastrophic injuries swirled among horsemen, industry stakeholders, and even the general public. So, what’s the most likely explanation?

“It was a combination of factors,” McIlwraith said, potentially including:
  • Racetrack surface;
  • Weather conditions – specifically excessive rain;
  • “Notices sent to horsemen at last year’s Autumn Meet and at the start of the Winter Meet, telling them that stall allocation would be related to a number of horses entered in races which could obviously push trainers to enter horses, perhaps before they were ready” McIlwraith said; and
  • “Soundness of the horses or difficulty in diagnosing some horses having pre-existing problems.” he said.
Statistically speaking, Bramlage pointed out, the overall Thoroughbred catastrophic injury rate gradually declined during the past several years.

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