May 6, 2008 — With the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby last Saturday, the public outcry over racetrack breakdowns has intensified.
The loss of Eight Belles was the first fatal mishap to occur in the Kentucky Derby in 75 years, but it was the second ultimately deadly breakdown seen in a Triple Crown race in the last three years. Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro broke his leg in the 2006 Preakness and had to be euthanatized months later as a result of post-surgical complications.
In the past few days voices in and out of the sport of racing have raised questions about why these catastrophic injuries continue to occur, and in fact seem to be more frequent. Speculation has centered on breeding practices, medication rules and a trend in the sport that rewards precocity and speed, rather than grit and longevity.
Christine Ross, DVM, has taken a different approach. Spurred by the injuries and fatalities she saw in her work as a racetrack veterinarian, Ross has pioneered the use of heart rate variability (HRV) analysis to identify horses at risk of breakdown. Her initial findings are promising, and, ultimately, she hopes HRV analysis can be used to prevent injury and enhance the lives of all horses.
You can read about Ross’s work in “What’s at the Heart of Breakdowns?” the cover story in the May 2008 issue of EQUUS magazine, available on newsstands or by calling 301-977-3900 ext. 0.
Comment on this topic in the EQUUS forum.