Progress reported on injury database at Welfare and Safety Summit

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 28, 2018

There has been a 20% drop in fatal injuries during Thoroughbred races from 2009 to 2017 based on Equine Injury Database statistics, but those who crunch the data believe there is room for more improvement as new study models are created.

The EID, maintained by The Jockey Club, is a product of the Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which was held for the eighth time June 27. Dr. Tim Parkin, a professor of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and one of the lead analyzers of the EID, again presented recent findings during the conference held at Keeneland.

The EID through 2017 has accumulated 3.1 million starts by about 150,000 racehorses and accounts for 96% of North American starts. The number of starts per year has dropped since 2009, and Parkin said if there were the same number of starts in 2017 as there were in 2009, that would equate to 154 fewer equine fatalities in racing last year.

“The industry is to be applauded, because it has demonstrated significant improvement in this country,” Parkin said. “We’re clearly not lacking data and statistical power at this point. But there is still room for improvement. We don’t want to see (the catastrophic injury rate) plateau.”

As reported earlier this year, there were 1.61 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts across all three surfaces last year: 1.74 on dirt, 1.36 on turf, and 1.1 on synthetics. The overall number is up slightly from 1.54 per 1,000 starts in 2016.

The EID relies only on information reported to it by racetracks, including those that don’t make their numbers public on The Jockey Club website. Parkin said there are many more injuries in training that currently aren’t tracked, and correcting that is a primary focus going forward.

“We need to get a handle on non-fatal injuries in training as well as racing,” Parkin said. “The question is, ‘How do we incentivize the reporting?’ We estimate that we are missing about 50% of non-fatal injuries in racing, and many more if training was included. We need to get to that stage in the next three to four years.”

Parkin also said research indicates that developing state and track-specific data models on injuries in racing and training would help maximize the value of the EID.

Other statistics discussed June 27 include indications that every month a horse spends with the same trainer, risk of injury decreases slightly. Also, horses that have been on the vet’s list even once have a 115% increase in risk of fatal injury and a 79% increase in the risk of sustaining a fracture.

As was stated in the past, reporting of horses’ veterinary records and sharing of pre-race examination information among jurisdiction are important to identifying at-risk racehorses. There have been calls in the past for the industry to be more proactive in mandating collection of such information.

“There’s still a good deal of work to do to improve predictability,” Parkin said. “There are bound to be a lot of local factors that get missed.”

More on the Equine Injury Database is available here.

Trainer Graham Motion, who is based at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland, later discussed the role of the trainer in racehorse safety. Some of his comments were relevant to Parkin’s discussion.

“Horses move around a lot more than they used to,” Motion said. “I think trainers are very good—more often than not—and more forthcoming (about passing on information about horses to other trainers). On the whole people are very aware of it. In Maryland people are required to give vet records for the previous 30 days (when a horse changes hands).

“We’re so much more aware now of injuries and trying to avoid injuries, and I think that’s a very good thing.”

There are three surfaces at Fair Hill—dirt, turf and synthetic. Motion said those stabled there are fortunate because of the options.

“I do most of my training on the synthetic surface, and I’m very disappointed they had such a short career except for Woodbine and Presque Isle Downs, where I race quite a bit,” Motion said. “I had less injuries when I raced on synthetic tracks. There is a big use for synthetic surfaces, even if they’re not the sole surface (at a racetrack). I think as a training surface it’s great.”

Integrity and security in racing

Steve Koch, Executive Director of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance, discussed video surveillance as a deterrent but also brought up perhaps a more important component–having adequate security and investigatory staff.

“Video surveillance is not going to be a replacement for boots on the ground and integrity resources,” Koch said. “It is not a replacement for staff. You need to treat it as strictly a complementary resource. You need staff and community policy. A sense of community and a presence (in the stable area) create a critical feedback loop.

“Always be sure to have the correct human resources.”

To that end, Koch again brought up the value of racetracks filling the position of safety steward; it has been discussed at previous conferences—and identified as worthwhile—but much of the industry has been dragging its feet.

“It can be a very powerful thing,” Koch said of have a safety steward. “It’s a doubling down on community, policing, and the visibility of your integrity program. It also helps horsemen.”

Be proactive: Have a plan, and communicate the plan

A panel discussed a number of scenarios that can cause a delay in or cancellation of a racing program, based on comments it all comes down to a few simple things: having a plan and regularly communicating with those involved.

“One reason we’re hear is communication among all parties in the racing industry and the importance of a having a written protocol in place,” said Mike Hopkins, Executive Director of the Maryland Racing Commission. “It makes everyone more aware and ready when they are called upon.”

“Everything needs to be thought out ahead of time and it all needs to be put in writing,” said Jeff Johnson, a former jockey and now a regional representative for the Jockeys’ Guild. “Things like warning systems around the racetrack—they’re very important, but tracks don’t always have a plan (on how to use them in an emergency).”

Hopkins noted the importance of having emergency response plans in the case of fire, flooding or even an active-shooter scenario. The Maryland Jockey Club, for instance, recently held active-shooter training for its security staff and other personnel.

“I encourage people to reach out,” said Hopkins, who also chairs the Association of Racing Commissioners International. “Your local police department would probably be happy to offer (training) for nothing. It good to have best practices so employees understand what to do.”

(Photo courtesy of Nikki Sherman/PTHA)