A team of researchers aiming to identify racehorses at risk for a catastrophic or career-ending injury through stride monitoring made a pitch Sept. 23 to the Kentucky Equine Drug Research Council for funding what they see as a final push toward implementing their potentially life-saving program.
The KEDRC operates under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, serving by reviewing and making recommendations on medication policy and vetting research projects eligible for KHRC funding.
The stride monitoring presentation was made by Dr. Warwick Bayly, a professor with the Department of Veterinary Clinical Services at Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and Dr. David Lambert, a veterinarian and CEO with StrideSAFE, the company that developed the biometric sensor system that collects the stride analysis data.
“This is the fourth year that Dr. Lambert and others have been pursuing ways that we could identify horses at greater risk of suffering major career-ending, or at worse case, catastrophic musculoskeletal injuries in the course of their (racing) preparation,” Bayley said. “We felt we had to do this. It is the right thing to do.”
The StrideSAFE system started in 2020 with trials done at Emerald Downs. Using sensors on the legs, behind the girth, and under the saddle pad, the team collected the data needed to create a single monitor that fits in the saddle towel 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 stride profile that Bayly refers to as a stride “fingerprint.”
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These fingerprints can then be compared to an “ideal stride,” which is a composite created from the analysis of 30 sound grade 1 and grade 2 winners.
In trials during morning works and racing done in cooperation with the New York Racing Association, Bayly and Lambert developed a system for flagging a horse’s risk level. If a horse’s stride was less than 1.9 standard deviations from the ideal stride, it was given a “green light,” meaning the lowest risk for injury. A horse with a stride of 2-2.9 standard deviations from the ideal got an “amber light,” and horses whose strides were three or more standard deviations from the ideal were flagged as “red light.”
The risk factor of a “red light” horse suffering a career-ending or catastrophic injury that rated a standard devotion of 6-7.9 was rated 142 compared to “green light” horses that rated a one.
Armed with this system, Bayly said it is time to create a practical, economic, and automated system that will flag candidates to then be screened more thoroughly by a vet or using CT scans or scintigraphy. He proposed a study of 2,000 horses that, from the NYRA study, should include approximately 12% with red flag stride deviations. From an estimated 240 red flag horses, veterinary inspection will likely identify 20 that require thorough exams and 10 of these will likely require advanced imaging as part of their diagnosis.
“Long term, we want to get the breezing data so we can have every horse going to a race with a green flag,” said Lambert. “You would then be just about guaranteed they would all get around safely, which is important for the big televised races.”
The council also heard a presentation from Dr. Scott Stanley, who is head of the University of Kentucky Equine Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, who proposed research aimed to develop gene doping detection methodologies that would identify the administration of transgenes. The test would identify genes synthesized to affect 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 proven to detect transgenes for EPO (erythropoietin),” Stanley said, adding that he has started working in collaboration with an LRC lab 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 the digital droplet PCR methodology and we hope to work with them to expand the testing beyond erythropoietin to other targets. .”
One of the long-term goals, he added, is to include gene doping results in the Equine Biological Passport database.
Stanley estimated it would take up to a year to acquire the digital droplet PCR equipment and develop the methodology and another year to validate the testing using KHRC blood samples and begin administering trials.
The Equine Drug Research Council did not take any votes, but closed the meeting agreeing to gather 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 later meeting.