The risk of fatal injury of Thoroughbred racehorses never has been lower, according to an annual analysis of data from more than 100 tracks in the United States and Canada.

The rate of fatal injury was 1.41 per 1,000 starts in 2020, a 7.8% decline from 2019 and a 29.5% drop since the Equine Injury Database (EID) started collecting data in 2009, The Jockey Club announced. Approximately 99.86% of flat racing starts at the 115 racetracks participating in the EID were completed without a fatality.

“Although we are thrilled to see improvement in the numbers from 2020 and commend the racetracks and regulatory authorities in their efforts to reduce injuries, other areas require closer study,” says Kristin Werner, senior counsel and administrator of the EID. “The recording of additional data through tools like the Electronic Treatment Records System and the Management Quality System of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory will give regulators, racetracks and researchers a better understanding of horse health and racetrack safety, allowing for additional scrutiny and research aimed at preventing injuries.”

Although the study reveals a decrease in risk overall for the second consecutive year, it found a potential anomaly in a historically low-risk demographic. Two-year-old horses consistently have had the lowest incidence of racing fatalities since the inception of EID, yet there was a 43% increase over 2019 — from 1.18 per 1,000 starts to 1.69. During the same period, the fatality risks decreased for 3-year-olds from 1.7 to 1.57 (8% decline) and those that are 4 years and older from 1.5 to 1.29 (14% decline).

Fatality rates also declined to a new low on dirt surfaces to 1.49 per 1,000 starts. Its all-time high was 2.11 in 2013. Races on grass were 19% lower (1.27 in 2020 vs. 1.56 in 2019) and the fourth-lowest since statistics were first recorded. Synthetic continues to have a lower incidence of any surface with 1.02, although the rate increased from 0.93 in 2019.

Races that were 6 furlongs or longer recorded the lowest incidences in EID history. Races that were 8 furlongs saw 1.22 fatalities per 1,000 starts, while 6-8 furlongs were 1.35. Shorter distances continue to pose a greater risk with starts of less than 6 furlongs recording 1.66.

“Overall, there was an 8% decrease in the risk of fatal injury from 2019 to 2020,” says Dr. Tim Parkin, the veterinary epidemiologist who has consulted on the EID since its inception. “Since 2009, risk has declined by 29.5% (P<0.001) or equivalent to 140 fewer horses sustaining a fatal injury while racing in 2020 than would have occurred had there been no change in risk since 2009. We will dig deeper into the numbers in the coming months to better understand trends in the 2020 data.”

EID statistics are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race. The statistics are for official Thoroughbred races only and exclude steeplechase races. Throughout 2020, approximately 99.7% of all Thoroughbred starts were included in the EID.

The new report comes nearly 4 months after the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was passed into law. The legislation was a response from federal lawmakers after a series of doping scandals and equine racetrack fatalities. The law federally recognizes the independent Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority as an enforcement entity that establishes uniform standards for medication, track safety and testing for performance-enhancing drugs.

HISA has come under scrutiny from two national organizations and nearly a dozen state chapters for “constitutional flaws.”

The United States Trotting Association criticized the legislation before it was passed into law for alleged constitutional infringements for violating the non-delegation doctrine, due process clause and anti-commandeering principle. The National Horseman’s Benevolent and Protective Association and its affiliates in 11 states filed a federal lawsuit over the alleged violation of the non-delegation doctrine, which prohibits the U.S. government from delegating its oversight to a private authority.

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