Statistics: 2020 Equine fatality rate in racing lowest since database launched

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: March 30, 2021

The rate of catastrophic injury in Thoroughbred racehorses in 2020 was 1.41 per 1,000 starts, down 7.8% from 2019 and the lowest rate since the Equine Injury Database began collecting data in 2009, The Jockey Club said in a March 29 release.

Since 2009, when the rate of fatal injury was 2.00 per 1,000 starts across all three surfaces, it has dropped 29.5%, according to the statistics.

In 2020, the rates for each surface were 1.02 for synthetics, 1.27 for turf and 1.49 for dirt. In 2019, when the overall rate was 1.53 per 1,000 starts, the numbers were 0.93 for synthetic, 1.56 for turf and 1.60 for dirt.

In large part because of live racing shutdowns primarily in late winter and spring due to COVID-19 restrictions, the number of starts in 2020 was 236,561, down 18% from 288,565 in 2019. Based on the 2020 data, 99.86% of flat racing starts at the racetracks participating in the EID were completed without a fatality, and about 99.7% of all Thoroughbred starts were included in the EID.

“Overall, there was an 8% decrease in the risk of fatal injury from 2019 to 2020,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinary epidemiologist who has consulted on the EID since it was created. “Since 2009, risk has declined by 29.5% (P<0.001) or equivalent to 140 fewer horses sustaining a fatal injury while racing in 2020 than would have occurred had there been no change in risk since 2009. We will dig deeper into the numbers in the coming months to better understand trends in the 2020 data.”

Equine Injury Database trends since 2009

The fatality rates by age in 2020 were 1.69 per 1,000 starts for 2-year-olds, 1.57 for 3-year-olds and 1.29 for 4-year-olds and up. By distance, the rates were 1.66 for six furlongs or less, 1.35 for six furlongs to one mile, and 1.22 for races greater than one mile.

The Jockey Club release noted that 2-year-olds have consistently been associated with the lowest incidence of racing fatality since the EID began in 2009, but in 2020 the rate was 43% higher than 2019. During a recent meeting of racing stakeholders in the Mid-Atlantic region, Dr. Scott Palmer, Equine Medical Director for the New York State Gaming Commission, noted that changes in training and racing schedules for 2-year-olds because of COVID-19 restrictions may have played a role, at least in New York.

The tracking of injury data is part of the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. According to data for the region, the catastrophic injury rate in 2020 for racing was 1.39 across all surfaces, down 24% from 2019 and the lowest total in 11 years.

Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID on The Jockey Club website. The racetracks that publish their EID statistics reported racing fatalities per 1,000 starts of 1.30 as compared to 1.47 for those that do not publish. The 21 tracks accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance reported 1.32 racing fatalities per 1,000 starts versus 1.48 for the 62 non-accredited tracks that raced in 2020 and reported to the EID, The Jockey Club reported.

Statistics from tracks that voluntary publish data

“Although we are thrilled to see improvement in the numbers from 2020 and commend the racetracks and regulatory authorities in their efforts to reduce injuries, other areas require closer study,” said Kristin Werner, senior counsel and administrator of the EID. “The recording of additional data through tools like the Electronic Treatment Records System and the Management Quality System of the Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory will give regulators, racetracks, and researchers a better understanding of horse health and racetrack safety, allowing for additional scrutiny and research aimed at preventing injuries.”

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 steeplechase races. Summary statistics for the EID are subject to change due to a number of considerations, including reporting timeliness.

The Thoroughbred industry is continuing to increase the tracking of equine injuries and fatalities during training hours. Stakeholders in the Mid-Atlantic region have made it a key part of the Strategic Plan.