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New rule for horses to have scans before major race raises questions *H&H Plus*


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  • The rules also ban any international horse who has ever had a previous major fracture or orthopedic surgery from racing, and limits international Melbourne Cup contenders to one start in Australia prior to the big race. H&H finds out more, and gathers the views of British vets and racing authorities

    NEW requirements for horses to undergo extensive body and limb scans ahead of the Melbourne Cup have raised a plethora of questions surrounding the knock-on effects of the stringent new regulations.

    Racing Victoria and the Victoria Racing Club announced a raft of new requirements for horses competing in the Spring Racing Carnival, with even more measures for international horses and those competing in the Melbourne Cup.

    These include a full body scintigraphy (bone) scan of international horses plus CT/MRI leg scans before travelling to Australia, paid for by connections, plus further CT scans before racing.

    Scintigraphy uses radioactive tracers to highlight abnormalities of the skeleton, such as hairline fractures, and the dose used is harmless to the horse’s general health. The horse remains radioactive for a short time afterwards, which means spending a night or two at a veterinary practice so others are not exposed to radiation.

    The rules also ban any international horse who has ever had a previous major fracture or orthopedic surgery from racing, regardless of current health and soundness, and limits international Melbourne Cup contenders to one start in Australia prior to the big race. The regulations also reduce the number of international horses allowed to take part at the Spring Carnival, while all Melbourne Cup runners — national or international — must have pre-race leg CT scans. A recommendation suggesting altering the firmness of the going for the Melbourne Cup was not approved.

    “The review ultimately found that injuries in international horses, including in the Melbourne Cup, result from a variety of factors and that a combination of changes is required to reduce the risk of injury rather than one single initiative,” said Racing Victoria chairman Brian Kruger.

    “We know some of these initiatives will be onerous on connections, but we make no apology for making the safety of horses our priority. Our sole focus is on ensuring that horses and riders compete safely, and we are committed to delivering these important enhancements in 2021 and beyond.”

    But it has also raised larger, ethical and scientific questions over what sort of precedent this sets for global racing and whether the recommendations are the solution. These areas, any positives plus the possible unintended knock-on effects, are likely to be watched by stakeholders across the world.

    British Equine Veterinary Association president Lucy Grieve told H&H: “This new rule raises many questions;  undoubtedly we should all do whatever we can to avoid catastrophic injuries but it’s important that the tools we use are accurate and specific predictors.

    “Where we decide to subject these animals to rounds of sedation, injection with a radioactive marker and exposure to ionising radiation we should also be sure that the end justifies the means.”

    A British Horseracing Authority spokesman told H&H the organisation “notes” the publication of the review and the resulting recommendations.

    “We are in contact with Racing Victoria and will be speaking to them to ascertain further details regarding this announcement, in order that we can assist British owners and trainers,” he said.

    “Where a horse has been refused the opportunity to race in Melbourne as a result of these measures, we would seek to ensure there is a process to assess that horse upon its return to Britain so that it’s suitability to return to racing safely is appropriately managed.”

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