The number of fatal injuries sustained by Thoroughbreds at American racetracks continues to decline, according to The Jockey Club.
The latest statistics from the organization’s Equine Injury Database (EID) show a 14 percent drop in fatal injuries to Thoroughbred racehorses from 2014 to 2015. Fatal injuries are defined as those that cause the death of a horse within 72 hours of a race.
Data from more than 90 racetracks across the country shows that the fatal injury rate among racehorses in 2015 was 1.62 per 1,000, down from a ratio of 1.89 per 1,000 starts recorded in 2014. This marks the lowest overall fatal injury rate since 2009, the first year the statistics were collected. Decreases in fatal injuries were seen regardless of track surface, distance raced and age of the horses.
Do these statistics mean that racing has become safer for horses? No one knows for sure, says Tim Parkin, BVSc, PhD, a veterinarian and epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow who serves as a consultant for the EID.
“The drop from 2014 to 2015 was far greater than a statistical blip and cannot be explained by differences in reporting from different tracks being in or out of EID reporting,” Parkin says. “Many different factors will have contributed to this drop, some of which we have identified as previous risk factors.”
Parkin provided an update on the database at the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation’s Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, held at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, in late June.
“The prevalence of these risk factors … can poten-tially explain about 35 percent of the 2014–2015 drop,” he says. “The rest of the drop is going to be made up of other unmeasured changes that have taken place over the last few years—which may include changes in medication regulations; a greater awareness of the need to put racehorse welfare at the top of the list of priorities; local individual racetrack initiatives.”
Parkin adds that he is optimistic that the racing fatalities will continue to decline over time: “I am not in the business of predicting the future, but my guess is that the rate will continue to drop in the medium to long term. There may be years where adverse conditions create a spike that goes against the trend, but I would expect the rate to continue to show a long-term trend downward. A zero fatal injury rate is unlikely … however, I do think North American racing should be aiming to get the overall rate below 1 per 1,000 starts. I think this is achievable in the long term—perhaps as a 10- to 20-year goal.”
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #469, October 2016.