Data show synthetic surfaces reducing horse racing fatalities

awincze@herald-leader.comMarch 8, 2013 

While the overall prevalence of Thoroughbred racing fatalities has remained relatively static, there continues to be a reduction in the risk of fatality on synthetic surfaces, according to updated statistics released by The Jockey Club on Friday.

Based on an analysis of 1,532,418 starts collected by the Equine Injury Database during the four-year period from January 1, 2009, through December 31, 2012, the prevalence of race-related fatal injury was 1.92 per 1,000 starts.

For individual years, the prevalence of fatal injury per 1,000 starts was 2.00 for 2009, 1.88 for 2010, 1.88 for 2011, and 1.92 for 2012.

Surface-to-surface comparisons continue to show a broader difference, however. In 2012, the fatality rate per 1,000 starts on synthetic surfaces was 1.03 compared to 2.10 on dirt and 1.74 on turf.

The instances of fatalities on synthetic tracks have regularly been found to be lower than those on dirt since data began being tracked in 2009, but the gap between the two has widened as more tracks have contributed data.

Only injuries that result in fatality within 72 hours or less from the date of the race are included in the national figures.

"While the fatality rate has remained fairly static over the course of the past four years, the real significance today is that, with 1.5 million starts in the database, we have now established a baseline and we can begin to analyze the relationships between each of the individual factors," said Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, who serves as a consultant on the Equine Injury Database and performed the analysis.

"In the future, we will be able to design interventions based on these data and recommend actions that will reduce injuries and fatalities."

It must be noted those stats were gleaned from 271,851 starts made on dirt in 2012 compared to 43,723 on synthetic surfaces and 53,991 on turf. There are eight tracks in North America that currently have a synthetic surface, including Keeneland and Turfway Park.

Keeneland has long been subject to rumors that it will be replacing the Polytrack surface it installed in 2006 and switching back to dirt, but track president Bill Thomason issued a statement refuting that last month.

The data also show that 2-year-olds were at significantly reduced risk of fatality compared to older horses. For 2012, the fatality rate for 2-year-olds was 1.39 per 1,000 starts from 27,316 total while 3-year-olds had a 1.85 rate from 108,545 starts and older horses had a 2.01 rate from 233,704 starts.

Parkin's analysis also found that female horses were at no greater risk of fatality when racing against males than they are when racing against other females and that moving a race off the turf onto dirt or synthetic surfaces does not increase the risk of fatality.

The data continued to show that races at 6 furlongs or shorter have a higher prevalence of fatal injury, with that number being 2.35 per 1,000 starts in 2012.

By comparison, races at 6-8 furlongs had a fatality rate of 1.78 per 1,000 starts in 2012 with races beyond 8 furlongs at 1.80 per 1,000 starts.

"The causes of racing injuries are often very complex and involve multiple factors interacting together over time," Parkin said.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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