Fatality rate on American racetracks continues to decline

Fatality rates in American horse racing continue to decline. Photo: Slooby, Chicago, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Fatality rates in American horse racing continue to decline. Photo: Slooby, Chicago, CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

The horse fatality rate on American racetracks monitored under the Equine Industry Database has declined for a fourth consecutive year, figures show.

The statistics show a 23 percent drop since 2009.

Comparing across all surfaces, ages, and distances, the rate dropped from 1.62 per 1000 starts in 2015 to 1.54 per 1000 starts in 2016. The overall rate is the lowest since the database started publishing annual statistics in 2009.

The analysis covers flat-racing thoroughbreds only.

Dr Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, who serves as a consultant on the database, once again performed the analysis.

“One of the primary objectives of this project from the outset was to build a comprehensive data source we could utilize to improve safety and prevent injuries, and we are now clearly achieving that goal,” Parkin said.

“The racetracks, the horsemen, and the regulators who have implemented safety initiatives over this time period deserve a great deal of credit for this encouraging trend.”

On dirt, the decline has been 19 percent since 2009, and on turf it has fallen 44 percent in the same period. The rate on synthetic surfaces, according to Parkin, has remained stable since 2010, hovering in the 1.0 to 1.2 per 1000 starts range.

Dr Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for Kentucky and a consultant to the database, said the sport, as a collective entity, had made a sustained difference. That, she said, should serve as motivation to continue the search for new safety and welfare initiatives, and to permanently eliminate the notion that horse losses from injury were a part of the industry.

The database statistics are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race. The statistics exclude jumps races from the calculations. Summary statistics are subject to change because of several considerations, including reporting timeliness.

Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the database in the Safety Initiatives section of The Jockey Club website. There are 25 tracks that self-reported during 2016 – fewer than a quarter of those who log fatalities through the database. The aggregate rate of the self-reporting tracks was 1.41 per 1000 starts.

Throughout 2017, racetracks accounting for about 96 percent of flat racing days are expected to contribute to the database.

The database was conceived at the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation’s first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, and was launched by The Jockey Club in July 2008.

It seeks to identify the frequencies, types, and outcomes of racing injuries using a standardized format that generates valid statistics, identifies markers for horses at increased risk of injury, and serves as a data source for research directed at improving safety and preventing injuries.

The list of racetracks participating in the database and detailed statistics from those tracks that voluntarily publish their results can be found here.
A graph depicting all updated statistical data pertaining to surface, distance, and age is available here.

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