By: Tom LaMarra
Fatalities in races in 2016 dropped 5% from the previous year to 1.54 per 1,000 starts, another indication that improved safety protocol and a tightening of equine medication rules are making a difference in Thoroughbred racing.
The Equine Injury Database statistics released March 10 by The Jockey Club show an encouraging trend across all three types of surfaces used in the United States. In 2009, the catastrophic injury rate in racing was 2.00 per 1,000 starts; that’s a 23% decrease over an eight-year period.
The first EID stats were published for racing of 2009. They track racing on dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces.
The catastrophic injury rate on dirt last year was 1.70 per 1,000 starts, down from 1.78 despite 10,386 more recorded database starts on the surface. The rate was 1.09 per 1,000 starts on turf versus 1.22 in 2015 with 4,071 more starts. For synthetic surfaces, the 2016 rate was 1.14 per 1,000 starts compared with 1.18 in 2015 with 881 more starts.
“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,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow who serves as an EID consultant and analyst. “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.”
Synthetic surfaces traditionally have had the lowest incidence of fatal injuries since 2009, with a range of 1.49 to 1.09 per 1,000 starts. Last year was the first that the rate on turf was lower than the rate on synthetic surfaces.
Alan Foreman, Chairman of the Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Vice Chairman of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium, noted that changes in medication rules through adoption of the components of the National Uniform Medication Program over the past four years are making a difference. National Thoroughbred Racing Association Chief Executive Officer Alex Waldrop agreed.
“The Jockey Club analysis of data from the 2016 Equine Injury Database demonstrates that our industry’s efforts to promote stricter safety standards and national uniformity in medication usage are proving to be effective,” said Waldrop, who chairs the RMTC. “Even so, protecting and advocating for our equine athletes is a pursuit that never ends.”
Waldrop also credited the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, which accredits racetracks under a code of standards. The number of tracks that seek accreditation is expected to increase this year, he said.
The EID was developed upon recommendations during the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit. The statistics are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race.
The statistics are for Thoroughbreds only and exclude races over jumps. Summary statistics for the EID are subject to change due to a number of considerations, including reporting timeliness.
Since March 2012 racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID. There are 25 tracks that self-reported during 2016, and their aggregate racing fatality rate was 1.41, according to a Jockey Club release. The list of tracks is available here.
“The sport, as a collective entity, has made a sustained difference that should serve as motivation to continue the search for new safety and welfare initiatives and to permanently eliminate the usage of ‘part of the game’ from the lexicon when discussing equine injuries,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, Kentucky Equine Medical Director and an EID consultant.