Analysis of data from the Equine Injury Database (EID) shows a reduction in the fatal injury rate for a fourth consecutive year and 23% drop since 2009, The Jockey Club reported March 10.
When comparing 2016 statistics to 2015 statistics across all surfaces, ages, and distances, the rate dropped from 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015 to 1.54 per 1,000 starts in 2016. The overall rate of 1.54 per 1,000 starts is the lowest since the Equine Injury Database started publishing annual statistics in 2009.
On dirt, there has been a 19% drop in the rate of fatal injuries since 2009. For 2016, the rate came in at 1.7 per 1,000 starts compared with 2.1 when data was first published in 2009. Turf has shown the most drastic improvement as there has been a 44% drop since 2009.
The rate on synthetic surfaces has remained stable since 2010, hovering in the 1.0 to 1.2 per 1,000 starts range.
The number of starts accounted for in the EID has dropped from 395,897 in 2009 to 314,459 in 2016 because of declines in foal crop and race days.
Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow who serves as a consultant on the Equine Injury Database, again performed the analysis.
"One of the primary objectives of this project from the outset was to build a comprehensive data source we could utilize to improve safety and prevent injuries, and we are now clearly achieving that goal," Parkin said. "The racetracks, the horsemen, and the regulators who have implemented safety initiatives over this time period deserve a great deal of credit for this encouraging trend."
The EID statistics are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race. The statistics are for Thoroughbreds only and exclude races over jumps from the calculations. Summary statistics for the EID are subject to change due to a number of considerations, including reporting timeliness.
Since March 2012, racetracks have been able to voluntarily publish their statistics from the EID in the Safety Initiatives section of The Jockey Club website. There are 25 tracks that self-reported during 2016 and their aggregate rate was 1.41.
An analysis of 2016 race distance statistics also shows consistency since 2009. Shorter races (less than six furlongs) were again associated with higher injury rates versus middle distance races (six furlongs to one mile) and long races (more than one mile).
Two-year-olds continued the trend of having the lowest rate of catastrophic injuries, with that rate coming in at 1.32 for 2016. Three-year-olds had a slightly higher rate of catastrophic injuries (1.62) than horses 4 and older (1.53).
"The sport, as a collective entity, has made a sustained difference that should serve as motivation to continue the search for new safety and welfare initiatives and to permanently eliminate the usage of 'part of the game' from the lexicon when discussing equine injuries," said Dr. Mary Scollay, the equine medical director for Kentucky and a consultant to the EID.
National Thoroughbred Racing Association president Alex Waldrop said industry efforts to improve equine safety are paying off.
“The Jockey Club analysis of data from the 2016 Equine Injury Database showing a 23% decline in equine fatalities in Thoroughbred races since 2009 demonstrates that our industry’s efforts to promote stricter safety standards and national uniformity in medication usage are proving to be effective," Waldrop said. "Even so, protecting and advocating for our equine athletes is a pursuit that never ends.
"The NTRA will continue to lead industry efforts to promote equine health and safety on several fronts, most notably through the NTRA Safety & Integrity Alliance, which accredits racetracks based on their adherence to best practices in areas including injury prevention, and our lead role in the Racing Medication & Testing Consortium (RMTC), the industry’s coordinated effort to develop and promote uniform medication rules, penalties, policies and testing standards at the national level.”
The list of racetracks participating in the Equine Injury Database and detailed statistics from those tracks that voluntarily publish their results can be found here.
Throughout the course of 2017, racetracks accounting for approximately 96% of flat racing days are expected to contribute data to the EID.
The Equine Injury Database, conceived at the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation's first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, was launched by The Jockey Club in July 2008 and seeks to identify the frequencies, types, and outcomes of racing injuries using a standardized format that generates valid statistics, identifies markers for horses at increased risk of injury, and serves as a data source for research directed at improving safety and preventing injuries.