Data: Fatalities Similar Across All Surfaces

An analysis shows no major difference in the number of fatal injuries by surface.

An initial analysis of equine injury data released earlier this year shows no statistically significant difference in the risk of fatalities in Thoroughbreds on different racing surfaces, officials said June 28 during the third Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit.

The analysis of information contained in the Equine Injury Database looked at factors that could be associated with fatal breakdowns. The results are strictly preliminary; in fact, officials said it could take a few more years of data to even consider a more detailed study.

“This will take time,” said Dr. Tim Parkin of the University of Glasgow in Scotland. “There are no quick answers. We need to consider (multi-factor models), but we probably need at least three years of full data.”

The EID was launched in November 2008 with 73 participating racetracks, a number that has grown to 86 that account for about 86% of total flat racing starts in North America. The initial analysis was based on one year’s worth of data from November 2008 to November 2009.

Data was collected based on pre-race, racing, training, and non-exercise occurrences.

The analysis only looked at fatal injuries. Non-fatal injuries probably will be addressed in the future as more data is collected, officials said.

The analysis of racing surfaces didn’t show a large enough swing in the number of injuries, though officials said it could be because data is limited. The number of catastrophic injuries per 1,000 starts was 2.04; by surface the figures were 1.78 for turf, 1.78 for synthetic, and 2.14 for dirt, which had a much higher number of starts.

“We still can’t say one surface is safer than another even if there was a statistically significant difference,” said Dr. Mary Scollay-Ward, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission who oversees the EID for The Jockey Club.

The analysis also showed female horses had a lower fatality rate than intact male horses; that females weren’t at increased risk when they compete against males; that 2-year-olds were less likely to break down than older horses; that there was no statistically significant difference in fatal injuries with various surface conditions, such as fast or muddy; and that distance and weight had little variance as well.

In general, 2-year-olds were 30%-35% less likely to suffer a fatal injury than older horses. Females were 50% as likely as intact males to suffer a fatal injury, according to the analysis.

Parkin noted there are many more factors that could be considered—season, track maintenance, quality of horses, and experience of jockeys, to name only a few—when future data is analyzed. That type of multi-factor analysis could lead to more definitive results; then again, it’s possible the initial numbers won’t change that much.

“It’s all about more data providing more certainty,” Parkin said.

Scollay, during a meeting with the press after the presentation held at Keeneland in Lexington, noted racetracks participate in the EID on the premise individual track data won’t be made public. It’s up to each track to decide if it wants to release numbers.

“Clearly, it would be interesting information but by the same token you would have a winner and a loser,” Scollay said. “Each track has the ability to look at its data and analyze it. We could, in the future, get more latitude with the information if we show we’re using the data responsibly. We need to demonstrate we’re being ethically responsible.”

Officials said that similar to studies in Great Britain and Hong Kong, a primary goal is to identify risk factors that lead to break downs in an attempt to improve the durability of racehorses.

For more information: Equine Injury Database Data