USA: Good news for horse racing as equine fatality rate drops to new low

Horse Racing
On dirt surfaces there was a 14.2% decrease in risk of fatal injury from 2018 to 2019

By Nicholas Godfrey

USA: At last some welcome horse racing news from the USA! 

The equine fatality rate has decreased more than 23% in the last 11 years – despite last year’s notorious spike in equine deaths at Santa Anita – according to data from the Equine Injury Database (EID).

The announcement, from the the American Jockey Club, attracted less attention than might have been the case amid last week’s maelstrom.

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An analysis of data from the 2019 year of reporting to the EID shows a decrease in the rate of fatal injury (1.53 per 1,000 starts) compared to 2018 (1.68 per 1,000 starts). 

The 2019 rate of fatal injury is the lowest number since the EID started collecting data in 2009; the overall drop in the risk of fatal injury from 2009 to 2019 was 23.5%.

Based on the 2019 data, 99.84% of Flat racing starts at tracks participating in the EID were completed without a fatality.

Surprisingly the Jockey Club’s statistics showed little disparity between fatality rates on dirt and turf, though synthetics produced a significantly lower rate. 

The incidence of fatality per 1,000 starts by racing surface for 2019 were as follows:

Dirt: 1.60 On dirt surfaces there was a 14.2% decrease in risk of fatal injury from 2018 to 2019. Since 2009, on dirt there has been a 24.1% drop in the risk of fatal injury.

Turf: 1.56 Turf surfaces had a 30% increase in risk of fatal injury from 2018 to 2019 but since 2009, on turf there has been a 19.6% drop in the risk of fatal injury.

Synthetic: 0.93 The rate of fatality in 2019 dropped below 1.0 for the first time since annual summaries were first reported in 2009. Synthetic surfaces saw a 24% decrease in the risk of fatal injury from 2018 to 2019. Since 2009, on synthetic there has been a 37% drop in the risk of fatal injury.

“The 23.5% reduction in fatal injuries since 2009 indicates that the thoroughbred industry’s commitment to equine safety is paying dividends,” said Jockey Club senior counsel Kristin Werner.

“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.”

Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID on the Jockey Club website. The 27 tracks that self-reported in 2019 had a slightly higher incidence of fatality (1.53) than non-self-published (1.52) across all surfaces.

Racetracks accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) Safety and Integrity Alliance had a lower incidence of fatality per 1,000 starts versus non-accredited tracks across all surfaces (1.46 vs. 1.59). This difference was not statistically significant.

Races under six furlongs have consistently been associated with the greatest incidence of racing fatality. In addition, two-year-olds again had the lowest rate of catastrophic injuries compared to three-year-old and older horses.

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 jump racing.

Throughout the course of 2020, 111 racetracks accounting for approximately 99% of flat racing days are expected to contribute data to the EID.

Annual fatality rates per 1,000 starts 
2019 1.53
2018 1.68
2017 1.61
2016 1.54
2015 1.62
2014 1.89
2013 1.90
2012 1.92
2011 1.88
2010 1.88
2009 2.00

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