Overall fatality rate in Thoroughbred races up slightly in 2017

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 19, 2018

The rate of fatal injury in Thoroughbred races across all surfaces in North America in 2017 increased 4.5% from 2016, according to Equine Injury Database statistics released March 19.

The EID, which was launched by The Jockey Club in 2008, breaks out the rate of fatal injury by surface, distance and age. The states are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race; steeplechase races are excluded.

The overall fatality rate was 1.61 per 1,000 starts last year, up slightly from 1.54 per 1,000 starts in 2016. For dirt, 1.74 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2017 versus 1.70 in 2016; for turf, the rate was 1.36 versus 1.09; and for synthetic surfaces, it was 1.10 versus 1.14.

Since the first data was first published in 2009, the overall rate per 1,000 starts has dropped 19.5%, according to EID stats. The rate has declined 17% for dirt races, 29.8% for turf races, and 26.1% for races on synthetic surfaces. The number of races on synthetic surfaces dropped 52.3% from 2009 to 2017.

The overall rate since 2009 has been the lowest over the past three years at 1.62 in 2015, 1.54 in 2016, and 1.61 last year.

Analysis of the EID has identified issues—maintenance of racing surfaces, for example—and has led to various actions designed to improve safety. And from 2009 to 2017, there also has been a tightening on medication use as part of the National Uniform Medication Program.

“Although fatality rates increased this year from last year, the increase in rates is not statistically significant,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, who analyzes injury data. “However, the overall decline in the rate in fatalities since the creation of the EID is statistically significant and reflects a continuously improving safety record for North American racing.”

“The North American racing industry has made significant strides to decrease fatal equine injuries, and the results should serve to further motivate us to continue that trend,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, Equine Medical Director in Kentucky and a consultant to the EID.

An analysis of 2017 race distance statistics shows that shorter races (less than six furlongs) were again associated with higher injury rates versus middle distance races (six to eight furlongs) and long races (more than eight furlongs). That has been the case during the period.

In addition, 2-year-olds (1.39 per 1,000 starts) again had the lowest rate of catastrophic injuries last year compared with 3-year-olds (1.66) and older horses (1.62). That data also has held up from 2009 to 2017.

Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID in the Safety Initiatives section of The Jockey Club website. There are 25 tracks that self-reported during 2017 and their aggregate rate was 1.46 fatalities per 1,000 starts.

The Jockey Club said that throughout the course of 2018, racetracks accounting for about 97% of flat racing days are expected to contribute information to the EID.

A breakdown of EID stats by surface, distance and age as released by The Jockey Club is available here.

(Photo by Tom LaMarra)