A University of California, Davis standing equine positron emission tomography scanner is now in use at Golden Gate Fields, according to a news release posted on the UC Davis website.
The scanner—the MILEPET from LONGMILE Veterinary Imaging—allows for imaging of a horse’s leg while under mild sedation. In use at the UC Davis veterinary hospital since March, the instrument has been transported by a team of UC Davis veterinarians and technicians to the equine hospital at Golden Gate once a week for the past month.
“Running the PET scanner at Golden Gate Fields brings multiple benefits,” said Dr. Mathieu Spriet, the equine radiologist who pioneered equine PET. “First, it provides Northern California horseracing with the same technology that has helped improve racehorse health and safety in Southern California. Second, it demonstrates that the equine PET scanner can be efficiently transported and shared between multiple sites, reducing costs and increasing availability. And finally, it opens the door to more research opportunities with performing multicenter studies.”
Spriet tweeted that 11 horses and 34 fetlocks (ankles) were scanned during one single day, June 9, at Golden Gate.
— Mathieu Spriet (@MathieuSpriet) June 9, 2021
The release attributed the achievement of the PET scanner to support from the UC Davis Center for Equine Health and The Stronach Group, owner of Golden Gate Fields and Santa Anita Park in the state. The Center for Equine Health was at the origin of the very first equine PET scan performed in Davis in 2015 and has since supported the development of the modality by funding several research projects as well as a clinical program. The Stronach Group has had a key role in the last two years by providing partial support to develop the first scanner allowing imaging of standing horses in an effort to prevent catastrophic breakdowns in racehorses.
The original MILEPET, owned by the Southern California Equine Foundation with support from The Stronach Group, has been in use at Santa Anita Park since December 2019. In a year and a half, more than 200 horses have been imaged with the scanner, several on multiple occasions. Research projects supported by the Grayson Jockey Club and the Dolly Green Research Foundations have helped characterize the value of PET scanning in racehorses. The PET scanner is ideal for imaging the fetlock, the most common site for catastrophic injuries in racehorses.
Nineteen horses died from catastrophic injuries as a result of racing or training at Golden Gate in 2020, according to California Horse Racing Board statistics. Seven have died from racing and training injuries this year.
On March 4 four anti-racing protestors, upset with the number of horse deaths at the track, chained themselves together on the Golden Gate main track, forcing the cancellation of one race and delaying others for hours.
The use of PET at Santa Anita, in combination with the use of MRI and medication rule changes, is one of several factors that have led to a marked decrease in the number of fatalities between 2019 and 2020, according to UC Davis. The CHRB has reported 25 horse deaths related to racing or training at Santa Anita since the start of 2020, compared to 30 that occurred during only a six-month period during its winter/spring meet in early 2019.