A team of researchers aiming to identify racehorses at risk of a catastrophic or career-ending injury through gait monitoring took a step on September 2. 23 to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council for funding what they see as a final push to implement their potentially life-saving program.
KEDRC operates under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which serves by reviewing and making drug policy recommendations and reviewing research projects eligible for KHRC funding.
The gait monitoring presentation was made by Dr. Warwick Bayly, a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Services at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. David Lambert, veterinarian and CEO of StrideSAFE, the company who developed the biometric sensor system that collects gait analysis data.
“This is the fourth year that Dr. Lambert and others have been looking for ways to identify horses at greatest risk of suffering severe musculoskeletal injuries that end career or, at worst, catastrophic in the course of their (racing) training. “Bayly said. “We felt compelled to do it. It’s the right thing to do.”
The StrideSAFE system started in 2020 with tests carried out at Emerald Downs. Using sensors on the legs, behind the girth and under the saddle, the team collected the data needed to create a single monitor that fits under the saddle and measures acceleration for three different planes: longitudinal (up and down), vertical direction ( front and back) and medial-lateral (side to side). The data collected creates a gait profile that Bayly has defined as a “gait fingerprint”.
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These fingerprints can then be likened to an “ideal step”, which is a compound created by analyzing 30 grade 1 and 2 winners of sound.
During practice during the morning work and racing in collaboration with the New York Racing Association, Bayly and Lambert developed a system to report a horse’s level of risk. If a horse’s stride was less than 1.9 standard deviations from the ideal stride, he was given a “go-ahead,” which meant the lowest risk of injury. A horse with a stride of 2-2.9 standard deviations from the ideal received an “amber light” and horses whose strides were three or more standard deviations from the ideal were marked as “red light”.
The risk factor of a “red light” horse suffering a catastrophic or career-ending injury that rated a standard devotion of 6-7.9 was rated 142 compared to “green light” horses who rated one.
Armed with this system, Bayly said it’s time to create a practical, cost-effective and automated system that will signal candidates to then undergo more thorough screening by a veterinarian or using CT scans or scintigraphy. He proposed a study of 2,000 horses which, from the NYRA study, should include about 12% with red flag gait deviations. From an estimated 240 red flag horses, veterinary inspection will likely identify 20 requiring extensive examinations, and 10 of these will likely require advanced imaging as part of their diagnosis.
“In the long run, we want to get the data on the breeze so that we can have every horse go to a race with a green flag,” Lambert said. “You would then be almost guaranteed that they would all move safely, which is important for big televised races.”
The board also heard a presentation by Dr. Scott Stanley, who heads the University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, who has proposed research aimed at developing gene doping detection methodologies that would identify transgenic delivery. The test would identify genes synthesized to influence muscle growth, cell growth and tissue repair, oxidative capacity and metabolism.
“The research aims to develop a methodology using new techniques that have been developed and demonstrated to detect transgenes for EPO (erythropoietin),” said Stanley, adding that he began working in collaboration with an LRC laboratory outside Tokyo that has an eight-member team working on gene doping detection in its genetic analysis section.
“They have been involved with IFHA and with collaborations in Australia, Hong Kong and France,” he said. “I have been working with them for five years and they are willing to share their methodology. They pioneered the area of equine anti-doping for digital drip PCR methodology and we hope to work with them to expand testing beyond erythropoietin for other objectives “.
One of the long-term goals, he added, is to include genetic doping results in the Equine Biological Passport database.
Stanley estimated it would take up to a year to acquire the digital drip PCR equipment and develop the methodology and another year to validate the tests using KHRC blood samples and start administering the tests.
The Equine Drug Research Council did not vote, but closed the meeting by agreeing to collect further questions from council members. A final review of the proposals and a vote on whether to support them for funding will be held at a subsequent meeting.