Updated statistics from the Equine Injury Database released on Wednesday show a notable decrease in the number of fatalities that occur over synthetic tracks compared to dirt surfaces, a change from initial reports announced last March.
Based on an analysis of 754,932 starts collected during the two-year period from Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2010, there were 1.55 fatalities per 1,000 starts on synthetics compared to 2.14 on dirt surfaces, according to The Jockey Club.
Statistics collected during a one-year period from Nov. 1, 2008, through Oct. 31, 2009, showed a less significant difference between the two surfaces as the fatality rate for dirt was 2.14 and the rate for synthetics was 1.78.
The new data also revealed that the total number of fatal injuries on all surfaces declined from 2.04 to 2.00 per 1,000 starts for the two-year period.
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The analysis was performed by Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow, who serves as a consultant on the Equine Injury Database.
"The addition of 376,000 starts to the database in year two enabled us to statistically validate certain trends seen in the data," Parkin said in a statement. "Trends will continue to emerge and evolve as additional data becomes available for study and as more complex statistical analyses are performed. This will allow us to understand how different variables, alone and in concert, may impact the risk of fatality."
Nearly 90 tracks participate in the Equine Injury Database, but fatality rates for individual tracks were not released.
Nick Nicholson, president of Keeneland Race Course — which has had a Polytrack surface since Fall 2006 — said the difference in the fatality rate confirms his operation's faith in the safety of synthetic tracks. However, Nicholson stressed that tracks need to continue to participate in the study and provide more data before widespread conclusions can be drawn.
"The study shows at this time that there are fewer fatalities on turf and synthetic surfaces than on dirt and that's not a surprise to anyone who has been following this issue," Nicholson said. "Even last year (Dr. Parkin) called it a strong trend, he just couldn't call it statistically significant. This year, he does. From that standpoint, that mirrors what happened at Keeneland. Our surface is somewhere around half the national average.
"At the same time, it's not a time to stop (the study). There are good dirt tracks, there are good synthetic tracks. Not all tracks are created equal. What should be equal, however, is our commitment as an industry to safety and proper track maintenance."
Officials with the study also reiterated that many variables such as race distance and the weight horses carry also must be considered when examining the numbers.
"As the number of starts recorded in the database continues to grow, more complex statistical analyses can focus upon multiple variables studied in concert to better understand the myriad of factors which may contribute to fatal and non-fatal injuries," Parkin said.