Indiana Grand Racing & Casino proactive on CTE awareness

Note: Story by Nancy Holthus, paddock analyst at Indiana Grand

Like all professional sports, safety measures are taken in an attempt to prevent injuries. Jockeys wear vests and helmets, while racetracks install specialized safety railings to help protect horse and rider from further injury. But realistically it is not a matter of if, but when injury will occur. No one will deny the dangers of the job of a jockey. The risks are evident, as they are chased by an ambulance during the running of each race. But injuries easily occur elsewhere – morning training, the paddock, during post parade, and the starting gate.

Indiana Grand Racing & Casino continues to implement new CTE protocols in regards to injuries sustained on the track. Several racing officials have already completed training regarding CTE procedures following incidents.

The National Football League is synonymous for injuries, but has specifically been in the headlines more recently regarding CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy). CTE is defined as a neurodegenerative disease found in those who have sustained numerous head injuries – most commonly those involved in contact sports on a regular basis.

Football leads the sports world with CTE related injuries, though other sports like wrestling, hockey, boxing and rugby also pose great risks. While horse racing is not technically a “contact” sport, some would consider being thrown to the ground off a Thoroughbred traveling at a high rate of speed “contact.” That is just the most common example in the industry.

The Jockeys’ Guild has been pushing for safety guidelines, but have experienced pushback.

“Over the past several years, the Guild has been working on concussion protocols for jockeys and return to ride guidelines, with very little support from the industry,” said Terry Meyocks, National Manager Jockeys’ Guild. “We greatly appreciate the support of racetracks like Keeneland, Indiana Grand, and The Maryland Jockey Club regarding the need for such protocols. It is our belief that head injuries are one of the most pressing issues that jockeys and their families are facing today. It is an area that has been overlooked by the industry as horseracing is one of the few sports that does not have such protocols in place. With that said, the Guild, in conjunction with University of Kentucky and other leading experts in the field, is in the process of developing protocols similar to those used in other sports. In 2016, we launched a pilot study with all of the racetracks in Kentucky, as well as other industry organizations, to create a concussion protocol program utilizing the SCAT5 (Sport Concussion Assessment Tool-5th Edition).”

Meyocks continued, “Once the protocols have been established, ultimately, we believe that they should be implemented at all racetracks and hope they will become mandatory throughout the country. In the meantime, the Guild will continue to advocate for such guidelines to be included in the NTRA Safety and Integrity Code of Standards. We will also continue working to raise awareness of head injuries and the long-term consequences.”

Indiana implemented concussion protocol in 2015 by utilizing SCAT3 – Sport Concussion Assessment Tool-3rd Edition. This was created by international experts in Zurich, Switzerland in 2012 at the 4th International Consensus on Concussion in Sport. The test includes but is not limited to eye, verbal, and motor responses, evaluation of symptoms, cognitive assessment and examination of the neck, balance and coordination. Scores are given to each item and a baseline is determined and recorded. When an incident occurs, the test is re-administered and the new score is compared to the baseline.

It is mandatory for every jockey in Indiana and Kentucky to have a baseline test once a year. The results are registered in the Jockey Health Information System and accessed when necessary. Jockeys at Indiana Grand also wear insurance identification cards pinned to their safety vests during the races stating allergies, blood type, etc. In addition to Emergency Medical Technicians on staff, there is also a Paramedic in the ambulance and chase vehicle that trails the field. Both are certified to administer evaluations in regards to SCAT testing. While it is not mandatory that jockeys are assessed post incident, it is strongly encouraged that they are checked out by on-track medics.

Major names in football are affiliated with and have succumbed from CTE including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau, former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson and former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez. While jockeys obviously do not stand on a line of scrimmage and attempt to take down their 1,200 pound mount, the risks still exist. Therefore, officials at Indiana Grand are proactive, as there is now more concern than ever of jockeys suffering long-term effects from concussions.