The rate of fatal injuries to American racehorses appears to be holding fairly steady, according to statistics released by The Jockey Club this spring.
A report based on The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, which receives data from more than 90 racetracks across the country, shows that overall fatal injuries to horses dropped slightly in 2014 compared to the previous year, with the rate going from 1.90 per 1,000 starts in 2013 to 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014.
In contrast, turf racing showed a 27 percent increase in fatal accidents in 2014 on grass surfaces, after a 20 percent decrease the previous year. The incidence of fatal injuries on dirt decreased 3.8 percent in 2014 from the previous year, and on synthetic tracks the rate dropped by 1.6 percent.
“We can say from these data that horses who run on synthetic tracks have much less risk of a breakdown than those running on turf or dirt,” says Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland who serves as a consultant for the Equine Injury Database.
Summary statistics have been published annually since 2009. In addition, Parkin is working to identify factors that may contribute to an increased incidence of injury. “We analyze an incredible amount of information for every start for each horse, ranging from the track conditions to how many times in the previous 30, 60 or 90 days that horse ran,” he says, adding that the volume of data collected year after year will make it easier to make meaningful interpretations. Currently, the database contains information gathered from more than two million starts.
Ultimately, says Parkin, continued data collection and analysis may save equine lives. “Our hope is that we can create models that will indicate when horses are at an increased risk of a breakdown in a particular race, based on a huge number of variables,” he says.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #454, July 2015.