Kentucky Derby Veterinarians Devoted to Keeping Horses Healthy During Race

The uniqueness of the racetrack setting also means the veterinarians facesome obstacles. Dr. Scollay says these are mainly logistical. For example, communication between vets around the track can be complicated when the number of people present on site overloads cellphone systems. Her team uses radios but sometimes needs to reach people —trainers, private attending veteriarians, owners — who are not on the radio network. Visibility along the track can also be difficult with so many people infield. As a result, veterinarians are staged at multiple locations.

Preventing and Treating Injuries

“The intense scrutiny of these horses in the week preceding the race has proved very helpful in establishing an accurate understanding of each horse’s overall health, and in particular its musculoskeletal health,” Dr. Scollay says.

With this knowledge, the vet team tries to prevent any injuries and issues. Horses are monitored while on the track, and if there is a reason for concern after the race, vets check on the horse. Before the race, track veterinarians are able to disqualify any horse that is ill or that they think has been injured.If there is an injury during the race, vets can reach horses in 15 to 30 seconds. According to Dr. Scollay, when vets get to a horse, they assess its condition and then dispense any needed emergency medication such as sedatives, analgesics or quick-acting corticosteroids.

“We carry a range of splints that can be applied to stabilize a fracture if necessary. We’ll load the horse into the equine ambulance for transportation back to its barn for further diagnostics and treatment. A KHRC veterinarian remains with the horse until the private attending veterinarian arrives,” Dr. Scollay says.

Enhanced injury assessment is available thanks to the presence of the attending board-certified surgeon and board-certified anesthesiologist, who can induce general anesthesia if necessary to safely transport an injured horse. Anesthetized horses can be intubated and safely moved into the equine ambulance on a special mat.

“The more effective we are in accurately assessing and addressing a horse’s condition immediately post-injury, the better the prognosis is for the horse,” Dr. Scollay says.

Racing is an injury-prone sport, but the dedicated veterinary team on site at Churchill Downs on Derby Day does everything it can to make sure these horses compete as safely as possible.


Read more articles on Vetstreet:

The Run for the Roses Starts in a Bed of Clover

What 5 Kentucky Derby Winners Are Doing Now

Helping Retired Racehorses Find New Lives

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