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Racing Victoria’s ‘Medicare for Thoroughbreds’ Aims to Minimise Injury Risk

Racing Victoria (RV) has announced a new subsidy scheme for owners and trainers to offset the cost of advanced diagnostic imaging on Victorian thoroughbreds.

The Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program is a proactive approach to injury prevention for thoroughbred racehorses by using advanced veterinary technology for early detection and intervention.

The program, which will be trialled throughout the remainder of 2021, is open to thoroughbreds who are listed as active or spelling on their stable return, and have been in Victoria for a minimum of three months prior to nominating for the program.

“It importantly helps reduce the risk of more serious injury through early intervention, while also allowing us to develop a deeper understanding of lameness in our racehorses” says Dr Grace Forbes, Racing Victoria’s General Manager Veterinary Services.

“With the addition of the specialist assessment and hospitalisation subsidies, it becomes a much more affordable option for owners and trainers when managing lameness in their horse.”

“Lameness is the most common cause of poor performance, lost racing and training days, and early retirement. This program is designed to encourage a proactive approach to injury prevention using the technology available to help early detection and intervention.

“While it is natural to focus on the benefits to horses while they are racing, injury minimisation also positively impacts the second career prospects of thoroughbreds once retired so we also see long term benefits in using advanced diagnostic imaging.”

The scheme is separate to the Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program announced in April to cover 100 percent of the mandatory scans for some horses participating in the 2021 Spring Racing Carnival. This includes all international horses stabled at the Werribee International Horse Centre during the Carnival and each horse – local or international – seeking to start in the Melbourne Cup.

Three veterinary practices participating in the six month trial which commences officially this Thursday, 1 July, are U-Vet Werribee Equine Centre, Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic and Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital.

To be eligible for the program, an owner or trainer must have their horse undergo a lameness examination by a veterinarian.

If the horse presents with lameness then it can be considered for the program, with an analysis of the examination results and the horse’s history conducted by the veterinarian to determine if and what advanced diagnostic imaging is required.

The owner or trainer of an eligible horse will ultimately be able to recoup 50 per cent of their costs (a potential saving of up to $1600) when accessing advanced diagnostic imaging for the nominated horse through a participating practice.

This includes scintigraphy (bone scanning), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) (high field/standing) and computed tomography (CT). Scroll down to read about the costs of these advanced imaging techniques.

To help the owner or trainer cover the cost of their initial assessment they will also be eligible for a specialist assessment subsidy of up to $300 upon referral by the veterinarian to one of the three participating practices.

Furthermore, an additional subsidy of up to $200 for a horse requiring hospitalisation for a minimum of one overnight stay at one of the program’s participating practices will also be available to the owner or trainer.

For those horses approved to enter the program, these subsidies will be rebated by the participating practice delivering the service, with the balance of costs to be met by the owner or trainer as traditionally occurs.

The Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program is made possible by the Victorian racing industry’s $25 million equine welfare fund, courtesy of a two per cent prizemoney contribution by racing participants and the industry’s sustainability fund.

The service offerings from the three participating practices are as follows;

  • U-Vet Werribee Equine Centre – Scintigraphy, MRI (high field – general anaethesia required), CT (standing)
  • Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic – Scintigraphy, MRI (standing)
  • Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital – Scintigraphy

“We’re excited to announce this trial of a Diagnostic Imaging Subsidy Program which we see as an important step to help address the financial hurdle that owners and trainers may face when wanting to access advanced diagnostic imaging for their horse” said Dr Forbes.

“In simple terms, it’s very similar to Medicare. If the diagnostic imaging costs $1,500, then we will fund a 50 per cent subsidy to reduce the cost to $750.

“We hope this financial support for owners and trainers will lead to more horses undergoing advanced diagnostic imaging, which has multiple benefits.”

The below information provides an indicative cost breakdown of the diagnostic imaging options (before the 50 per cent subsidy is applied) available as part of the subsidy program offered by RV:

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI):

What: MRI uses magnetic fields and resistance to create high-quality three-dimensional images of bone, fluid and soft tissue. MRI shows an image of the physical change occurring during injury or disease. Multiple images are collected of the area of concern. All standing MRI units are low-field, so those images have less detail than high-field MRI and CT.

MRI is available at Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic (Standing Procedure) or U-Vet Werribee (High-field MRI with General Anaesthesia). Costs are approx up to $3,200 for High-field MRI and $2,995 for Standing MRI.

Scintigraphy (bone scan):

The patient is injected with a radioactive substance and a few hours later a gamma camera records which areas of the body have increased uptake of the radioactive substance. These areas are commonly known as hot spots—areas of increased bone activity (or soft tissue inflammation or cell turnover).

Scintigraphy is available at Ballarat Veterinary Practice Equine Clinic, Goulburn Valley Equine Hospital or U-Vet Werribee and can cost up to $3,000.

Computed Tomography (CT):

The standing CT scanner for horses allows efficient three-dimensional imaging of the lower limb and identification of otherwise undetected bone damage. It is essentially cross-sectional radiographs and very useful, providing excellent, high-detailed images for bone and fair to good images for soft tissues.

Images can be viewed in multiple planes and at multiple angles. The quality and contrast of images created by CT is far superior to standard x-ray.

CT scans are available at U-Vet Werribee and cost between $1,200 – $2,000.

Racing Victoria has published a page with full details, which you can access here. 

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