Equine Injury Database statistics show the rate of fatal injuries in Thoroughbred races dropped 14% in 2015 from the previous year, with the overall rate is the lowest since the stats were first reported in 2009.
Across all surfaces, ages, and distances, the fatality rate dropped from 1.89 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.62 per 1,000 starts in 2015. The overall fatality rate of 1.62 per 1,000 starts is the lowest since the EID began publishing annual statistics in 2009.
The statistics, released March 22, are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race. Summary statistics are subject to change due to a number of considerations, including reporting timeliness, EID consultants said.
Synthetic surfaces had the lowest fatality rate per 1,000 starts, followed by turf and dirt. That has been the pattern since 2009.
The number of starts accounted for in the EID has dropped from more than 395,000 in 2009 to under 300,000 in 2015 because of declines in the foal crop and race days.
There were 1.18 fatalities per 1,000 starts on synthetic surfaces, 1.22 on grass courses, and 1.78 on dirt tracks. The rates are down for each of the surfaces compared with 2014, and the rate for dirt fatalities dropped under 2.00 per 1,000 starts for the first time.
"We've seen a significant decrease in the number of fatalities and that is certainly very encouraging," said Dr. Tim Parkin, a University of Glasgow veterinarian and epidemiologist who performed the EID analysis. "We will continue to examine data and look for trends, but the wide-ranging safety initiatives embraced by tracks, horsemen, and regulators in recent years have very likely played a role in the reduction of injuries and fatalities."
An analysis of 2015 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, while 3-year-olds had a lower rate of catastrophic injuries than horses 4 years old and older.
"When we first starting collecting data in 2007, we realized that the more data we obtained and analyzed, the more we would learn," said Dr. Mary Scollay, equine medical director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. "These improving fatality rates are clear evidence that we can move the needle and that the efforts of so many are truly bearing fruit."
The EID stemmed from the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit in 2006. Officials said that in 2016, racetracks that account for 96% of race days are expected to submit to submit fatality data; about 30 tracks make their statistics public.
The database was created 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.
"This database was created with the goal of improving safety and preventing injuries, and we are now doing that thanks to the participation and cooperation of so many racetracks," The Jockey Club president and chief operating officer James Gagliano said. "We applaud all tracks that have contributed data to this project, and we are especially grateful to those who have chosen to make their statistics publicly available on the EID website."
Rick Violette, president of the National and New York Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, praised the progress that has been made as a result of a cooperative effort by all facets of the industry.
"Through the unprecedented cooperation of the racing commissioners, the tracks and the veterinarians, and spearheaded by the horsemen, this program has had an undeniably significant and immediate impact on the safety of our sport," Violette said in a statement.
"Our work is just beginning. We must collectively do all we can to get every jurisdiction in the country, large and small, fully compliant with the National Uniform Medication Program, and we will continue to find and fund initiatives that will strengthen our efforts to promote equine welfare."