Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Unshod Racehorse: Racing Commissioners Table Model Rule on Barefoot Racehorses

When the Association of Racing Commissioners International (RCI) met at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs, New York on Tuesday, the state regulators had Lasix on their minds. But after lunch, the meeting turned to the model rules that had been proposed for 2011. 

Model Rule 5 proposed allowing horses to race without shoes. It has a proviso attached to it, however: a horse that runs in a race unshod would not be able to race in shoes for 60 days. This requirement seemed to be based on the way that Lasix is handled rather than on the way that equipment changes like bar shoes or blinkers are handled, although their requirements may vary between states as well.

After some discussion, the decision was made to table the rule proposed at Saratoga.

The state of California has gone through an extensive period of evaluating the decision whether or not to allow horses to race without shoes. The question of allowing the practice came up in November 2007, when the state was installing artificial surfaces on the major racetracks. In February 2008, Dr. Diane Isbell, one of the CHRB’s official veterinarians, spoke on behalf of trainers who were training horses without shoes and wished to race without shoes. She also listed some of the improvements seen in the horses training without shoes.

California initiated a temporary open-rule period, with records of unshod horses compiled for reporting to the California Horse Racing Board. During the trial period, data was collected on 211 horses racing in the state, of which 172 were unshod in all four feet, 27 wore shoes in front and not behind, 4 ran with only hind shoes, and 8 horses were running with shoes after having previously raced unshod.

In terms of success of these horses, 77 of the 211 finished in first, second or third place in their races, while 24 finished last and 10 horses were scratched. The great majority (191) of the horses ran at Golden Gate Fields.

At the time that California was considering this rule change, the CHRB found that 13 states and/or tracks allowed horses to race barefoot, with restrictions and stipulations varying between the states. Twelve states or tracks required that horses be shod.

A model rule is not the same as a rule. A model rule gives each racing jurisdiction a framework, or suggested text for a rule, based on the research and expertise of committees within or attached to a larger group like the RCI. So that each state does not have to go out and research a subject, it is provided a model rule that has gone under scrutiny of the RCI system.

Documents from the California Horse Racing Board were referenced in preparing this article. Thanks to Teresa Genaro
who was present at the RCI meeting in Saratoga, for her assistance with this article. Photo credits: "No Shoes" sign by Joshua Barrett, racing on the beach at Laytown Races in Ireland by Paul Walsh.

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