Catastrophic injury rate drops dramatically at Delaware Park

Posted: Nov. 18, 2016

From an equine health and safety standpoint, 2016 was a very good year for Delaware Park.

For the 81-day meet, there were four racing fatalities, according to statistics released Nov. 16 by the Delaware Thoroughbred Racing Commission. That equates to a catastrophic breakdown rate of 0.38 per 1,000 starts, by far the lowest figure for the track since at least 2002.

In 2015 for a comparable meet, the catastrophic injury rate for races was 2.17 per 1,000 starts.

The national racing fatality rate for 2015 was 1.62 per 1,000 starts for dirt, turf, and synthetic surfaces combined, according to the Equine Injury Database. The 2016 rate will be released next year.

“We’ve been very fortunate this year,” said Dr. Susan Botts, acting chief veterinarian for the DTRC.

According to racing commission statistics for 2016, there were four racing fatalities at Delaware Park, all of them in June. There were four fatalities during training hours, but those numbers don’t factor into the EID stats.

John Mooney, executive director of racing at Delaware Park, said he believes a change in the medication culture under the National Uniform Medication Program and careful maintenance of racing surfaces factored into the reduced fatality rate.

“Trainers are being a lot more cautious about therapeutic medication,” Mooney said, “and we’ve always done our best to maintain the track surfaces. We also perform three exams on the horses every racing day, and the vets are doing a terrific job. All of this has helped.”

DTRC executive director John Wayne said each horse on race day is examined in the morning, in the paddock, and when they approach the starting gate.

Wayne also noted that 11.6% of the horses that competed at Delaware Park in 2016 were subject to out-of-competition testing, a percentage he said “is far above what other U.S. racing jurisdictions are doing.” Under current rules, out-of-competition testing can only be used to identify blood-doping agents, but that would be expanded under a proposed national model rule to be considered by the Association of Racing Commissioners International in December.

“The testing has been limited to blood-doping, and we’ve effectively curtailed that,” DTRC chairman Duncan Patterson said. “It’s going to be expanded to include anabolic steroids and other prohibited drugs. I assume ARCI will approve this for next year, and out-of-competition testing will have more teeth to it.

“The major focus obviously is the health and welfare of the horse.”

(Delaware Park photo by Tom LaMarra)