Factors found to be associated with falls by jockeys in flat racing included sex of the jockey, being an apprentice, being an amateur jockey, the number of previous rides by the jockey that day, younger horse ages, drier track ratings, shorter race distances, lower field sizes, lower race grades and the prize money on offer.
The study by the Hobart-based Menzies Research Institute, published online in the international journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, investigated risk factors associated with falls by licensed jockeys in Australian flat races from August 2002 to July 2006.
On average, licensed jockeys in Australia experienced a fall at the rate of 1 per 240 rides in flat racing. Any one of those falls could be career-ending, with 27 per cent resulting in injury, and 1 in 620 falls resulting in death.
Associate Professor Leigh Blizzard, a Menzies' senior member and principal research fellow, says rates of falls, injuries and fatalities have been reported but, to date, there had not been a study of factors that may contribute to falls.
The Australian study had succeeded in identifying factors associated with falls.
"Applying appropriate interventions to prevent falls requires an understanding of the numerous risk factors that are associated with these falls," Blizzard said.
Menzies' doctorate student Peta Hitchens, who is first author of the paper, says the findings suggest both the jockey and horse experience will be important factors to include in a fall and injury-prevention strategy.
"This is only the beginning. It is vital to safety in the thoroughbred racing industry in Australia that the risk factors for falls and injuries are further investigated." she said.
Several factors are potentially modifiable. For example, in relation to jockey-related factors, Hitchens says: "Once confirmed, I envisage that these findings could be incorporated into apprentice training programmes."