US racing’s 2020 stats show lowest rate of reported racehorse fatalities in 12 years

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Analysis of data from the 12th year of reporting to the Equine Injury Database shows a decrease in the rate of fatal injury in 2020 compared to 2019.
Analysis of data from the 12th year of reporting to the Equine Injury Database shows a decrease in the rate of fatal injury in 2020 compared to 2019. Photo by sniggie

The US Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database (EID) has reported the lowest rate of fatal injury in horses racing since it began collecting data in 2009.

Based on the 2020 data, 99.86% of flat racing starts at the racetracks participating in the EID were completed without a fatality, the Jockey Club said. The risk of fatal injury in 2020 declined 7.8% from 2019 and 29.5% overall since 2009. In 2019 there were 1.53 fatalities per 1000 starts, and in 2020 it was 1.41 per 1000 starts. In 2020, there were 333 fatal injuries, and from 2009 to 2020 there were 6908 fatal injuries from more than 3.2 million starts.

About 99.7% of all Thoroughbred starts in 2020 were included in the EID.

Dr Tim Parkin, the veterinary epidemiologist who has consulted on the EID since its inception, said that overall, there was an 8% decrease in the risk of fatal injury from 2019 to 2020.

“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,” he said. “We will dig deeper into the numbers in the coming months to better understand trends in the 2020 data.”

Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID on the Jockey Club website. The racetracks that publish their EID statistics reported racing fatalities per 1000 starts of 1.30 as compared to 1.47 for those that do not publish.

The 21 racetracks accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance reported 1.32 racing fatalities per 1000 starts versus 1.48 for the 62 non-accredited tracks that raced in 2020 and reported to the EID.

Two-year-olds have consistently been associated with the lowest incidence of racing fatality since the EID began in 2009, but in 2020, the incidence for 2-year-olds was 43% higher than in 2019. Three-year-olds and horses 4 years of age and older saw 8% and 14% declines, respectively, in the incidence of racing fatality per 1000 starts versus 2019. None of the differences in incidence among age groups were statistically significant.

The incidence of fatal racing injury on dirt surfaces in 2020 was the lowest on record at 1.49 per 1000 starts. Races on the grass were 19% lower in 2020 versus 2019 and the fourth lowest for that surface since 2009. Synthetic once again had the lowest incidence of all racing surfaces at 1.02 racing fatalities per 1000 starts.

The incidence of fatal injury per 1000 starts for races shorter than 6 furlongs (1.66) was again greater than other distance categories of 6 furlongs to a mile (1.35) and over a mile (1.22). The incidence of fatal injury for both distance categories in excess of 6 furlongs was the lowest on record in the EID.

Kristin Werner, senior counsel and administrator of the EID, commended the racetracks and regulatory authorities in their efforts to reduce injuries, but said other areas, such as racing surfaces and treatment records, require closer study, giving “regulators, racetracks, and researchers a better understanding of horse health and racetrack safety, allowing for additional scrutiny and research aimed at preventing injuries”.

The 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.

» EID trends since 2009

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