Database shows 2021 fatality rate for Thoroughbred races lowest since 2009

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: April 2, 2022

The rate of fatal injuries in Thoroughbred racing in 2021 fell 1.42% to its lowest level since data collection began in 2009, according to Equine Injury Database statistics released by The Jockey Club March 29.

Last year’s fatality rate for racing on dirt, turf and synthetic surfaces combined was 1.39 per 1,000 starts, down from 1.41 in 2020 and 1.53 in 2019. The 2021 figure is a drop of 30.5% since 2009, when it was 2.00 per 1,000 starts.

The fatality figures by racing surface last year were 0.73 per 1,000 starts for synthetic, 1.25 for turf and 1.51 for dirt.

As was noted during discussions by Mid-Atlantic racing stakeholders, delays in the training of 2-year-olds in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions appears to have increased the fatality rate (1.69 per 1,000) among a population of horses that has had the lowest rate. The figure in 2021 dropped to 0.98 per 1,000—the lowest on record.

“The trends we discovered in the 2020 data show evidence that interrupting a 2-year-old’s prep year may have a detrimental effect, but it does not carry over to the 3-year-old year,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, the veterinary epidemiologist who has consulted on the EID since its inception. “We will continue to investigate the data to further help prevent injuries and make the sport safer.”

The EID statistics also showed the following: middle-distance races (six furlongs to one mile) had the highest fatality rate (1.46 per 1,000 starts) in 2021 rather than races less than six furlongs; the 0.98 rate for races on synthetic surfaces was the second lowest since 2009; and the rate for dirt races (1.51) was the second lowest since 2009.

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publish their EID statistics reported racing fatalities per 1,000 starts of 1.15 as compared to 1.54 for those that do not publish.

The 22 racetracks accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Safety and Integrity Alliance reported 1.24 racing fatalities per 1,000 starts versus 1.50 for the 58 non-accredited tracks that raced in 2021 and reported to the EID.

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.

EID historical statistics 2009 through 2021

Racetracks participating in the EID and detailed statistics from those tracks that voluntarily publish their results