As the racehorse industry reels from a doping scandal and equine track deaths, an annual analysis of data from the Equine Injury Database (EID) makes a case for optimism.
The rate of fatal injury is at its lowest — 1.53 per 1,000 starts — since the EID started collecting data 11 years ago, The Jockey Club recently announced. The 27 tracks that participate in the EID had no fatality in 99.84% of flat racing starts, according to the EID. The rate was an even 2 per 1,000 starts in 2009, a 23.5% drop.
“The 23.5% reduction in fatal injuries since 2009 indicates that the Thoroughbred industry’s commitment to equine safety is paying dividends,” says Kristin Werner, senior counsel of The Jockey Club, the organization that maintains the EID. “Capturing injury data from morning training hours at racetracks, as well as data related to treatments and procedures would greatly improve the precision of our risk models, increasing the ability of racetrack personnel to identify horses at risk even before they hit the entry box.”
While there is an abundance of considerations associated with racing fatalities, the EID traditionally records the surface that each occurs on — dirt, turf and synthetic.
Although the EID found that more fatalities per 1,000 starts occurred on dirt surfaces (1.6) than turf and synthetic, there was a 14.2% decrease on dirt over the previous year. In totality, there has been a 24.1% reduction in the risk of fatal injury since 2009. While there was a 30% increase to 1.56 from last year on turf surfaces, it has decreased by 19.6% since 2009. The rate of fatality on synthetic surfaces dropped below 1 — 0.93 — for the first time since EID’s first report in 2009. The 2019 rate represents a 24% drop from 2018 and a 37% reduction since 2009.
“Although the incidence of racing fatalities on dirt surface reached an all-time low in 2019 of 1.60, the results on turf increased from 1.20 in 2018 to 1.56 in 2019,” says Dr. Tim Parkin, professor of Veterinary Epidemiology at the University of Glasgow. “Understanding the factors that contribute to increased risk of fatality is a continuous pursuit, one that would benefit tremendously from reporting data on injuries to horses that occur during morning training hours.”
In early March, four federal indictments accused more than 2 dozen veterinarians and trainers of conspiring to use performance-enhancing drugs on racehorses competing in the United States and abroad. The California Assembly and United States Congress have introduced legislation that intends to improve the safety of racehorses and jockeys.