In my 10 years of working on leg issues for racehorses, I have found that the major causes of leg soreness and injury are:
1) Early Anabolic Steroid use adding more weight in addition to the bred overweight of the Thoroughbred in relation to its legs.
2) Too many days running on a rock-based dirt track without sufficient long breaks to heal "remodel" the microfractures produced in its bones;
3) Failure to recognize and deal with minor problems and soreness; and
4) Abuse by trainers by forcing the horse to perform beyond its natural abilities by performance-enhancing drugs, pain-killing drugs, compressed racing schedules, and running the horse when unfit, over it head, or on dangerous track conditions.
4 Examples in the extreme which have elements involved in most racehorse leg problems are:
1) Sport Boy Tommy- A good trainer was careful with the horse but he got bought "claimed" and no medical records follow a racer. SBT was put in the lowest races where it did well, but even with multiple leg warning signs like layoffs and front bandages he was raced too often- every 2 weeks- and put back over its head into a $40k race, where his front legs folded and the jockey, Sunny Ho, broke his neck and was hospitalized. Sport Boy Tommy should never had been in that race and was killed.
2) Stormy Do- Claimed, lowered, and raced too often too many times in the year. 13 years old with a great record raced its 13th and last race Sept 5th 2006 (brokedown and killed). Would still have perfectly healthy leg today if not raced to death, had no obvious hints of leg problems, just too much stress on old legs. I called it murder.
3) Arlington track- The track was never in 10 years able to be maintained decently in bad weather. 2006 in June 17 horses broke down on the same last turn, where the majority of problems occur. Some rashes of breakdowns, like Del Mar 2006, are due to crippled horses being ridden by lesser jockeys trained by lesser trainers. At Arlington a 1st time starter and a 2nd time starter broke down on the 2nd turn, track got bad as the weather did. I told them to harden the track, they did, and only 2 breakdowns the following month. They are getting smarter and putting in artificial track (includes ground rubber), which is greatly reducing injuries; but more can be done simply and cheaply.
4) Barbaro- As a yearling was in a splint 2 weeks for a tendon problem; in several races had problems at or near the starting gate (refuse to go in, leaving early, stumbling, bobbling, bumping with other horses, boring out (weaving); all signs of leg problems.
During the warm-up (post parade) for the Preakness which he shattered a leg, his jockey was repeatedly looking down at the exact leg that later broke- but in racing there is no injury timeouts or delays.
WHAT AND WHO YOU CAN EMAIL:
Email as many tracks, state racing commissions or boards, state TOBA's (Thoroughbred owners and breeders associations), NTRA and The Jockey Club and tell them you want to see the following changes:
1) Heavier penalties for trainers using performance-enhancing drugs, including taking away the free horse stalls they get at the track currently racing;
2) 3, 4, and 5 furlong (eighth mile) workouts around the 1st turn instead of the 2nd;
3) Require full medical and racing record go with the horse to new trainers and owners;
4) The track should provide free required testing every 6 months on the following machines: Ultrasound, X-ray, nuclear scan, CT scan, and/or MRI.
5) All dirt tracks should change to artificial track.
Please be polite and tell them that their bottom line will improve and the horses will stay healthier meaning less of the poorer quality horses needed to replace crippled ones. Most of these ideas are already being considered or advocated by a few persons in the racing industry, but numbers of people helping will be noted and be very helpful to speed things along.
Like it or not state governments make big money from racing, and there are many
influential people in racing, so the fastest way to get things done that will be safest for horses is to climb on the positive-change bandwagon.