Once a thoroughbred comes into the care of a licensed Trainer or Pre-Trainer their location must be listed at all times on a Stable Return. Trainers are closely monitored by Principal Racing Authority (PRA) stewards at all times to ensure the highest standards of welfare are maintained. Issues such as racing 2-year olds, as well as the the use of tongue ties and whips have all been addressed by Racing Australia and strict guidelines are set out in the Australian Rules of Racing.
Trainers and Stablehands must be licensed under strict criteria as outlined by their relevant Principal Racing Authority (PRA) - this ensures those working directly with racehorses are fit to perform their duties in line with the Australian Rules of Racing and welfare guidelines.
There is no evidence that racing 2-year-old thoroughbreds is detrimental to their welfare in the short or long term.
In fact, an independent and peer reviewed study published in 2013 found that, the more starts a racehorse had as a 2-year-old, the longer its career in racing. If the critics were correct, the reverse would be the case. An independent study concluded there were no apparent adverse effects for horses that began their racing careers at younger ages in Australia.
A peer reviewed and independent study examined the careers of 117,000 horses (including 66,000 2-year olds) that raced between 2000 and 2011 to investigate the age at first start and the length of careers of Australian Thoroughbreds.
“The association of age at first start with career length in the Australian Thoroughbred race horse population.” Equine Veterinary Journal 2013
The study found:
While the study did not set out to show whether 2-year old racing is ‘beneficial’ to racehorse careers, one of the authors has noted the study does show that “2-year old racing is not detrimental to performance.”
Studies in New Zealand and on Standardbred racehorses in Australia have independently replicated these findings.
Dr Meredith Flash is a horse vet and PhD student who conducted a Victorian thoroughbred crop epidemiology study. Her research disproves myths spread by animal rights groups surrounding 2-year-old racing and thoroughbred welfare.
How many horses train and race at 2-years old?
We investigated the training and racing careers of all horses born in Victoria in 2005 and 2010. Of the 7662 horses born 73% (n= 5611) entered training and 63% (n= 4864) started in a least one race by the end of the 7-year-old season. Fifty percent (n= 2813) of horses that entered race training did so at 2-years-old. Only 22% (n= 1044) of all horses that started in a race started at 2-years-old.
What is the impact of 2-year-old training and racing on future athletic performance?
Horses that race at 2-years-old had the longest careers and most careers race starts on average, followed by horses that entered training at 2-years-old but raced in later years. When we looked a bit closer at horses that raced at 2-years-old, on average they only had 2 race starts in that first racing season which was significantly less that horses that started their racing careers at 3-years-old or older. Ninety five percent of horses that raced at 2-years-old had a race start as a 3-year-old.
What did the study conclude?
The findings from our study suggest that early appropriate training at 2-years-old is beneficial to the future race careers of these horses. Further research is needed to better define optimal training programs to protect against injury and maximise athletic performance.
The jockey's whip is utilised to assist horsemanship and ensures horse and rider safety through its role as a communication, corrective and encouragement aid.
The Australian Rules of Racing provide strict guidelines surrounding the types of whips that are permitted and the way in which they are used. Approved whips are known as 'padded whips' and have ample shock absorbing cushioning in them to protect the thoroughbred at the point of contact.
It is also important to remember that racing involves a jockey weighing approximately 55kg sitting atop of a 500kg thoroughbred travelling at around 65-70kph. Access to a whip as a controlling device is critical if a dangerous situation occurs and threatens the safety of the jockey or other race participants.
Under the Australian Rules of Racing, and the current design of jockeys’ whips, there is very rarely, if ever, evidence of tissue reaction or ongoing discomfort to the recipient of the whip after racing.
The regulatory framework extends to:
Tongue ties are used to improve the breathing of thoroughbred racehorses that might be affected by Dorsal Displacement of the Soft Palate (DDSP) and to prevent horses getting their tongues over the bit.
DDSP involves the soft palate moving into an abnormal position above the epiglottis, causing a narrowing of the airway. It can cause coughing, choking and dramatic asphyxia; in fact if any of the aforementioned happen to occur during a race it poses a significant safety risk to the jockey and other participants in the event. It is unknown why DDSP occurs in some horses and not others. The use of tongue ties is approved and regulated and, as with all aspects of racing, vets and stewards ensure rules are followed and the welfare of the horse monitored.