On January 8, the racing industry could not resist gushing over the 100th race of 10-year-old gelding Our Dexter. An industry article spoke of what a ‘tough’ horse he is and racing.com dedicated several tweets to talking up the big occasion at the Stawell track.
In an industry where the average number of times a horse is raced before being killed or retired for being too slow or injured (to most likely be killed) is just 10 times (1), and where only 8% of horses have been found to survive its regime for more than four years, reaching 100 races is most certainly a rare achievement.
Whilst the industry bragged about such a triumph, they failed to mention the many studies that have proven bone fatigue is the leading cause of fatal injury in thoroughbreds.
In a 2013 study (2) funded by RIRDC, the Australian Government and Racing Victoria themselves, it was stated “Up to 70% of Thoroughbred racehorses have bone bruising, or joint surface collapse of the cannon bone and condylar fractures which propagate from this joint surface are the most common cause of fatal breakdown injuries. These injuries are due to bone fatigue, damage that accumulates due to repeated high loading produced by high speed galloping.” The study examined “subchondral bone turnover in the fetlock joint of racehorses both when in full race training and when resting from training” with the aim of “providing information on how to better manage horses to prevent a common injury”. THE most common FATAL injury.
Among other things, the study found:
“prolonged training periods are undesirable for Thoroughbred racehorses as fatigue damage accumulates faster than it can be repaired increasing the risk of joint injury and fracture. Therefore, these horses should be regularly rested from training to allow bone repair.”
“Trainers should be educated to understand that bone within the lower limb joints has a limited fatigue life and that regular rest periods are required to allow repair.”
A later study in 2017 (3), funded by the same three bodies, backed up the findings. More here.
In the 12 months leading up to the Stawell event, Our Dexter had been forced to race a gruelling 19 times. He survived the race, running 10th of 14.
5-year-old thoroughbred Opposite, was not quite so lucky. Raced 20 times over the 2020 period, he was killed on Boxing Day after suffering “an injury to its near-fore fetlock”
One might ask why the Australian Government, and more recently the Victorian Government, is using tax-payer dollars to fund studies only for the findings and recommendations to be ignored by an industry that seems hell-bent on not only racing horses to death, but also celebrating the process of their demise. If they are going to ignore their own studies, perhaps their funds would be better spent on a retirement program for the 10,000 plus horses vanishing from the industry each year.
1) Profiling the careers of thoroughbred horses in Australia between 2000 – 2010 – Velie, Wade & Hamilton, University of Sydney 2012
2) Bone repair in Thoroughbred racehorses. The effect of training and rest – Whitton, Holmes, Mirams & Mackie, University of Melbourne Equine Centre 2013
3) Prevalence of subchondral bone pathological changes in the distal metacarpi/metatarsi of racing Thoroughbred horses – Hassan, Mirams, Mackie & Whitton, University of Melbourne Equine Centre 2017