LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's equine medical director is warning the horse racing industry that its future is in doubt if California's problems make it to the Commonwealth.
"California racing is having an existential crisis, and I think we all need to look closely and say, 'That could be us,'" Dr. Mary Scollay said. "We need to think very carefully about what we do, why we do it, and what we can do better."
It still could be weeks before the commission knows exactly what went wrong, as they performed a necropsy Monday. Some in Kentucky are keeping a close eye on horses' health as 23 have died at Santa Anita in California since December.
Scollay says horse racing officials know the industry is being scrutinized because of on-track injuries and deaths. She believes there needs to be a new approach to solving the problem.
"Part of the problem with the horses is I don't think we've fully recognized what all the risk factors are," Scollay said. "We know some of them. I think we need to be careful that if we focus too much on those, we don't recognize the other ones that can also have impact."
State lawmakers on the Administrative Regulation Review Subcommittee are scheduled to meet Tuesday afternoon in Frankfort. A couple of substantial rule changes that Dr. Scollay says would improve the welfare of horses are on the agenda.
"I think the message to the industry and the people who have seen this as a way of life for generations is that there is no guarantee it'll be here for future generations," Scollay said. "So I think the message to the current stakeholders, myself included, is to do everything we can to improve the safety for these horses and the jockeys."
Horse trainer Kenny McPeek says horse safety is paramount for the industry.
"The people that are most affected by what happens are the people that are handling the horse," McPeek said. "Not just the trainer, but the grooms and the riders, the hot walkers and certainly the owner. It's devastating from our perspective."
But he also says there is no way to completely prevent injuries, no matter how careful you are.
"It's something that's almost impossible to avoid. You have certain times when horses that are perfectly sound take one bad step. And the fact you have such a large animal racing on small legs, it's obviously risky."
Kentucky's thoroughbred race-related deaths nearly doubled to 36 in 2018 compared to 2017, but deaths at Keeneland remained flat at five deaths year-to-year.