03/31/2014 5:18PM

Equine fatality rate down slightly in 2013; artificial surfaces remain safer


The fatality rate for U.S. Thoroughbreds on artificial surfaces continued to be sharply lower than the fatality rate on dirt surfaces in 2013, according to data released by The Jockey Club on Monday from the Equine Injury Database.

The 2013 fatality rate for artificial surfaces was 1.22 per 1,000 starts, well below the 2.11 rate on dirt surfaces, according to the data. In each year since the Equine Injury Database was launched five years ago, the fatality rate on artificial surfaces has been well below the dirt rate, a finding that became statistically significant several years ago.

The fatality rate on turf surfaces dropped from 1.74 per 1,000 starts in 2012 to 1.38 per 1,000 starts last year, according to the data, a decline of 20 percent.

Overall, the fatality rate for all starts in 2013 was 1.90 per 1,000, down slightly from 1.92 in 2012. The total fatality rate has dropped approximately 5 percent in the past five years, from 2.00 per 1,000 starts in the first year measured, 2009.

The 2013 data also continued to show that the fatality rate in races run at six furlongs or shorter was higher than the rates for longer races. In 2013, horses suffered fatalities in sprints at a rate of 2.39 per 1,000 starts, compared with a rate of 1.39 in races at one mile or longer. The 1.39 rate in 2013 was sharply lower than the 1.80 rate in 2012 and well below the five-year average of 1.75 for longer races.

The fatality rate among 2-year-old runners shot up in 2013 to 1.63 per 1,000 starts, from 1.39 in 2012 and well above the five-year average of 1.41. Horses ages 4 or older continued to show the highest fatality rate among all age groups, at 2.00 per 1,000 starts.

Although data continues to show that artificial surfaces are safer on average than dirt surfaces, the movement toward installing the surfaces has waned considerably over the past several years. Last year, Del Mar announced that it would replace its artificial surface with a dirt surface for the 2015 meet, following Santa Anita’s decision to replace its artificial track late in 2010.

In addition, there has been speculation that Keeneland, once one of the most vocal advocates for artificial surfaces, might replace its artificial track, following equivocal statements from track officials in recent months about their long-term commitment to the surface.

Many horseplayers and some horsemen have grumbled about artificial surfaces despite the data showing that they are safer. Many track superintendents also say that dirt surfaces can be made as safe as artificial surfaces with the right care and maintenance, since fatality rates vary considerably from track to track.

The Equine Injury Database was launched in 2009 with the participation of nearly every major racetrack in the United States. The tracks are required to report any injury that results in a fatality within 72 hours of a race.


shawn kennedy More than 1 year ago
One other factor for synthetics, at least at Woodbine, is that horses cannot wear shoes with toe grabs, stickers, jar corks, turn downs, etc. Just plain, flat shoes. Wonder if that has something to do with it too?
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
thanks to voiding claims. thanks to dermorphin testing. thanks to calling out baffert. the report on incident breakdown rates came out in 2012. there was a milder winter in 2013. but the worst tracks for these problems are located in the hotter arid areas in new mexico, arizona and california. it doesnt make much sense to dehydrate your horse on hot days. presque isle and golden gate have tapeta, but golden gate has four times as many breakdowns than presque isle. australia has hot arid climate and its fatality rate is only one quarter of america's rate. the dirt tracks are much older than the synthetics, so they have more decay from water damage. but there are some dirt tracks with low rates.
. Anderson More than 1 year ago
Roberta Pattison14 hours ago If you look at the list of participating tracks, you'll see that most lower level dirt tracks aren't on it. If statistics from places like Parx, Mountaineer, Turf Paradise, Penn National and others were included one would expect the gap between dirt and all weather to be even larger, not smaller. Individual statistics are available for each participating track, so you can compare and contrast to your heart's content. Some dirt tracks are better than others, not surprisingly.
Bob More than 1 year ago
Maybe it's because Scott Blasi is no longer working in the industry?
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
Any time a Horse dies on the track, the business loses customers. Sickens me to see people cheer for a winning horses when horses are down on the track. I don't like artificial surface.. however the facts are leaning such that all dirt surfaces that have a higher fatality rate should be replaced. And bettors like me have to adjust. If the track superintendents believe they can make dirt safer then why have they not done so, sounds like bullbleep to me. If they really care about the horses and racing's image, as I hear Steve Byk swear they do, they should fine these Trainers for their fatalities and donate the money to research. As I am confident some hurt horses just don't belong on the track
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Your first statement is so true, I get so disappointed when a horse/rider go down and the yahoos keep cheering, strange priorities.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
some are that way with people too. Once some guy keeled over in front of a betting machine, medics are working on him and this guy literally stepped over them to make a bet. I was too upset to bet any horse and went home
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
People can comment all they want about non-fatal injuries on synthetic surfaces but the jury is in: synthetic surfaces result in reduced fatal injuries compared to dirt surfaces. This makes the reversion to dirt surfaces a cynical exercise for those professing to love racehorses. The following figures are fatal injuries per 1,000 starts from 2009 to 20013 from The Jockey Club data. SA is a natural experiment: 0.76 for 2009 - 2010 on a synthetic surface and 2.65 for 2011 - 2013 on a dirt surface. For other tracks with synthetic surfaces: PID 0.82; WDB 0.95; KEE 0.97; TP 1.20; and DMR 1.45. For other tracks with dirt surfaces: SAR 1.56; AQU 1.72; GP 1.73; BEL 1.82; and AQU INNER 2.72. Note that the two ranges do not even overlap: ALL six synthetic figures are lower than ALL six dirt figures. I hope my local track Woodbine retains its synthetic surface even if it makes handicapping more difficult for some horseplayers and even if it results in fewer horses shipping in for stakes races from the United States.
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Exactly. Those in favor of the dirt havent looked at the actual numbers. The tracks in the study focused on horses of similar caliber
John Murray More than 1 year ago
Good stats, well done Woodbine
martymar . More than 1 year ago
I love woodbine, its my hometrack but I do think they need to end the season earlier maybe mid November. I noticed there were more injuries and fatalities later in the year.
Richard More than 1 year ago
The solution to breakdown reduction is simple; no " masking " drugs, only artificial surfaces or turf racing and no races under one mile. These remedies will never replace the status quo because money trumps all else in this industry.
Patricia Doyle More than 1 year ago
This looks at fatality rate but I wonder what the non fatal injury rate is when comparing dirt to synthetic. As far as handicapping I liked the cushion track best at Hollywood Park. Hoped they would put one in at the inner track Aqueduct.
Boyd Cord More than 1 year ago
NY is too old school
Kevin Miller More than 1 year ago
Those tracks cannot stand up to the snow and cold .
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Woodbine does just fine
Michael Slezak More than 1 year ago
Why are these statistics not looked at through the prism that low-level tracks with horses running sore at the bottom level are primarily dirt surfaces -- Beulah, Thistledown, Suffolk, Finger Lakes, etc. These tracks will likely have a higher rate of breakdown than, say, Hollywood and Keeneland, where you have more expensive horses making fewer starts.
nancyb More than 1 year ago
Presque Isle, Golden Gate, Turfway Park?
Bugsy Anderson More than 1 year ago
Try reading the list of tracks they included in the study
Mike Reinhardt More than 1 year ago
Sshhh, he may actually post something of worth if that happens.
John Casse More than 1 year ago
Amazing if you listen to all those in their Ivory Towers "its all about the horse" but here they are going back to the dirt tracks from synthetic - Del Mar recently and I wouldn't doubt if Keeneland is to follow. Why $$$$$ not the safety of the horse. Where is all the uproar. Oh wait lets blame it on Lasix it's the dirty demon. Please try to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth.One other thing PETA is a horrid organization with horrid credibility anyone with half a brain knows that.