Horse-, training- and race-level risk factors for palmar/plantar osteochondral disease in the racing Thoroughbred

G. L. Pinchbeck, P. D. Clegg, A. Boyde, E. D. Barr and C. M. Riggs
September 2013
Equine Veterinary Journal

Reasons for performing study

Palmar/plantar osteochondral disease (POD) is a common, debilitating condition in Thoroughbred racehorses; however, training- and racing-related factors associated with this disease are unknown.

To determine horse-, racing- and training-related risk factors for POD. The general hypotheses were that early training and racing, and increased intensity of racing and training, lead to increased severity of POD.

The metacarpo/metatarsophalangeal joints of 164 Thoroughbred racehorses were examined at post mortem and graded for third metacarpal and metatarsal POD. The relationships between training- and racing-related factors and grade of POD in each condyle were determined using multilevel, multivariable, ordinal logistic regression models.

A total of 1288 condyles were graded. Factors associated with higher grades of POD were the total lifetime number of races, an increase in gallop sessions in the previous season, racing before import to Hong Kong and an increase in the number of short (8–16 weeks) between-race intervals per season. Horses in their first racing season were more likely to have lower POD grades, while horses that had a long between-race interval (greater than 16 weeks) in the season prior to euthanasia were also more likely to have lower POD grades. Lower POD grades were significantly more likely as days since last race increased up to 400 days. Age at first race was not significantly associated with grade of POD.
Conclusions and potential relevance

Cumulative racing exposure and training intensity in the previous season were associated with higher grades of POD, supporting the hypothesis that the disease is due to repetitive loading. Longer between-race intervals and increased time since racing were associated with lower POD grades, which may indicate that lesions heal. Further work is required to enable optimisation of racing and training programmes to reduce the frequency and severity of this disease.