The Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) has allocated a record £1.85million this year in grants for several areas of equine veterinary research.

The HBLB is funding a project looking into the physiological effects of jet lag on top class competitive horses after international flights, which affects their performance. Scientists at Bristol University are carying out the project.

HBLB scientific liaison officer Libby Archer was keen to point out the far-reaching implications such a study could have: “Our remit focuses specifically on the effects of jet lag on thoroughbreds which are being transported for racing or breeding. However, these days it is a basic aspect of top-level competition in every discipline that horses travel huge distances and are then required to perform at their best.

“This study will improve understanding of jet lag in horses, leading to the elimination of any potential problems,” she explained.

The board is also funding tests on a grass sickness vaccine which will be carried out by the Animal Health Trust (AHT) and are due to commence in October. Although the vaccine already exists, these tests aim to fulfil the safety element of the criteria which must be met before an application can be made to the Veterinary Medicine Directorate for a licence to publicly market it.

“This work is part of a nationwide collaboration to establish preventative measures for grass sickness,” says Ms Archer. “The more that can be found out about it the better, and this is the first step in a chain of steps to prevent this potentially fatal disease.”

A study is also due to be carried out into the use of stem cell technology to repair tendon damage. Stem cell technology is considered to have great potential in many different aspects of human and animal welfare, and Libby Archer believes that this, particularly in the case of racing thoroughbreds, could prove to be a hugely valuable study.

“At present there are a variety of ways of treating tendon injuries, but none of them are perfect, and often there is residual damage that never heals fully. This technology could be the answer,” she says.

The HBLB had been due to close down in January 2005, as the Government thought in this day and age there was no reason why a public body should be funding education and research within a sporting industry. However, the board has had something of a temporary reprieve until 2006, while the racing industry works to put a future funding structure and mechanism in place.

“It is definitely a question of when, not whether,” says Libby. “It is very good news for the industry as a whole and equine science in particular, as we will be able to award grants next year in the normal way.”

Professor Oswald Jarrett of Glasgow University, who has been appointed to succeed Professor Hugh Miller as Chairman of the Board’s Veterinary Advisory Committee, which advises the board on its veterinary investment, was equally optimistic about the prolonging of the HBLB’s life.

“This will be welcome to the equine veterinary profession. I and my VAC colleagues look forward to contributing to a smooth transition of this important part of the board’s functions to a successor body.”