03/22/2012 3:30PM

Jockey Club report: Fatal injury rate twice as high on dirt as on synthetic in 2011

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Horses running on dirt surfaces were nearly twice as likely to suffer a fatal breakdown as a horse running on an artificial surface in 2011, according to data released on Thursday by the Jockey Club as part of an ongoing project to collect information on racing injuries at North American racetracks.

The fatality rate for horses running on traditional dirt surfaces was 2.07 per 1,000 starts during 2011, according to the data. The rate on artificial surfaces was 1.09 per 1,000 starts, an 89.9 percent difference. The rate for turf surfaces was 1.53 per 1,000 starts.

The rate for dirt surfaces was calculated from 283,745 starts, whereas the rate for artificial surfaces was calculated from 45,700 starts. The Jockey Club has said that racetracks representing 93 percent of the starts in North America are currently supplying injury data to the project, which was launched late in 2008.

Counting fatalities on turf surfaces, the overall rate for catastrophic injuries in 2011 at North American racetracks was 1.88 per 1,000 starts, equal with the overall rate in 2010 and a slight improvement over the fatality rate of 1.98 for 2009.

Last year, the Jockey Club had reported slightly higher overall rates for catastrophic injuries in 2009 and 2010 than it reported on Thursday. The Jockey Club, however, said in a release accompanying the data that it had changed the reporting requirements for a racetrack fatality to reflect only those horses that died within three days of suffering injuries. The vast majority of fatalities occur within 72 hours of the initial injury – for 2011, for example, racetracks reported 758 fatalities, and all but 44 occurred within the 72-hour window.

“We realize there are situations in which the outcome is not determined until much later than 72 hours after an incident, but our confidence level in reporting an accurate benchmark statistic is greatest when we utilize information available within 72 hours,” said Matt Iuliano, the executive vice president of the Jockey Club, in a statement.

Veterinary experts and epidemiologists caution that racetrack injuries are usually the result of multi-variable factors and that a focus on one factor, such as racing surface, can be misleading. However, the fatality rate for horses running on artificial surfaces has declined markedly over the past three years, and a similar decline has also been registered for turf racing. The declines have widened the gap between the rate for the two surfaces and the rate for dirt racing.

In 2009, the rate on artificial surfaces was 1.49, well below the 2.1 rate on dirt surfaces. In 2010, the rate for artificial surfaces fell to 1.21, compared to the dirt rate of 2.05. Similarly, the turf rate was 1.87 in 2009 before falling to 1.59 in 2010.

Last year, Dr. Tim Parkin, an epidemiologist hired by the Jockey Club to analyze the data, said that the difference between the dirt rate and the artificial rate had become statistically significant for the first time, meaning that statisticians would have confidence in saying that horses suffer fatal breakdowns on artificial surfaces less often than on dirt because of factors that do not include anomalies in the underlying data.

The data for 2011 released on Thursday also included break-outs by age, sex, and distance.

◗ By age, 2-year-olds suffered fatalities at a rate of 1.20 per 1,000 starts; 3-year-olds, 1.98; and 4-year-olds and up, 1.92.

◗ By sex, males, 1.97 per 1,000 starts; females, 1.76.

◗ By distance, less than six furlongs, 2.17 per 1,000 starts; six furlongs to 7 ½ furlongs; 1.77; and one mile or farther, 1.80.

The database project was launched late in 2008 in order to gather information on racehorse injuries in an attempt to identify risk factors while racing. Bob Curran, a spokesman for the Jockey Club, said that an analysis of the data for underlying factors is “ongoing.”

 

Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
I don't think anyone was suggesting a complete to synthetic. However, if you're unable to handicap synthetic races that's your own problem. A good handicapper learns how to evolve and adjust.
DRFInsidePost More than 1 year ago
Re: Missing comments -- they were inadvertently left behind on a previous version of the article when it was updated. I will repost them here.
DRFInsidePost More than 1 year ago
Paul Warfield It is certainly true that synthetic surfaces reduce the incidences of bone injuries, which are often responsible for catastrophic breakdowns. But setting aside for the moment the fact that they also increase the incidences of soft tissue injuries, some people's willingness to gobble down and regurgitate the most superficial conclusion from the study suggests that they aren't making the slightest attempt to be objective. Either that, or they haven't a clue how to interpret statistics. From 2009 through 2011, there were four fatalities from 4,908 races run on the dirt track at Saratoga, which is less, percentage-wise, than the overall average for synthetics. It is also HALF of the percentage of fatalities over the same period from races run on Hollywood's "Cushion Track";. Gee, ya think that there might be some other variables to consider? Stephen Hewlett I'm in agreement with Mark Dawson's post below .... synthetic tracks are at major venues where the average class of the horse is signficantly higher than at the many smaller venues in this country. On average, high class horses tend to receive significantly better care and are raced less often than their unfortunate brethen at the smaller tracks. This has got to affect the results of the Jockey Club's report on fatality rates. Kalic Chambers If they shot the race scences for luck at Hollywood park with a green screen instead of santa Anita would luck still be on television today? Real talk Elizabeth No expert here or anything, but aren't these numbers a bit skewed to make synthetics look safer. I mean, they didn't even seem to consider the number of dirt vs. synthetic courses for the number of starters and break downs. If there is a significantly larger number of dirt tracks reporting break downs than synthetic tracks (and let's face it, there are few synthetic tracks in this country), then of course the dirt numbers are going to be higher just because more of the races were run on that type of track. Was that even factored into their study? togoonthego The Jockey Club might think about taking the study one step further and examining underlying economic trends. That is to say, tracks that can afford to invest in synthetic surfaces have either: a) a higher caliber of average starter that benefits from better care and more time off when physical issues arise; b) an economic base that -- at least for NOW (as Mr. Beyer tells us) -- benefits from casino revenue; or c) both. mrm When it comes to change the racing industry moves at glacial speed. The big money in horse racing has to big of an investment in american speed oriented bloodstock to accept a surface that does not favor that style of racing. In my opinion synthetic surfaces takes away the advantage of a speed /run on or close to the lead type horse. Synthetic and turf races are much more interesting races to handicap and watch. Anne I still don't understand why Santa Anita's safe synthetic track was removed and a dirt track installed again when it is so clear that synthetic tracks are safer for the horses. Anyone can learn to handicap for synthetics.
DRFInsidePost More than 1 year ago
mrm Thats easy. The big outfits complained and started to move their horses to other states. Elizabeth Santa Anita was having endless problems with their synthetic surface including drainage and the base holding too much water. It became a drain on money and was constantly being closed for training and even missing some racing days. That track owners (and horsemen as I understand it) decided to go back to dirt because it's easier to maintain. Mark Dawson I wonder how the stats would look if you took into account a) how many horses are injured TRAINING on Synthetics, even before they get to the races and b) more importantly, factor in that the Synthetics are installed at high class (horse-wise) tracks like Keeneland, Woodbine, Del Mar, and Hollywood... while the dirt tracks encompass th $4,000 stock at MNR, PEN, PM, FE, LA, FL, etc, etc. SURELY that has far more to do with it than anything.... Troy Taylor Hey cowboy, You can spin it anyway you want. You can even sell me a pipe dream. I'm not buying it. Catastrophic injuries (via a traditional "dirt" surface) will always be higher than a synthetic surface. A dirt surface will "never" be safer than a synthetic surface. Let's just say it... like it is:: Gamblers like a "dirt" surface and they could care a less about the horse when it comes to catastrophic injuries. Mark Dawson Hey.... I am a horse lover FIRST, and a bettor 2nd. And Frankly, most of my wagering takes place on turf, over jumps, in England...so I have littl concern one way or another day-to-day in a synth vs dirt argument in the States. However, I can't understand how you don't see the argument. Do you REALLY think the #s would be any different if Penn National and Fort Erie's trainers of broken down $4,000 claimers ran on Tapeta or Poly, and Keeneland and Del Mar were back on dirt? Those numbers are as much a product of the poor racing stock running there for the Engleharts and Nesses of the world.... (no offense meant to them...its just they thrive on bottom of the barrel claimers). Its the same reason there is more crime in poor neighbourhoods.... it isn't a fair comparison. I know a few very respected trainers at my home track who STILL train their horses every day on the dirt training track every morning despite the Main Track Poly option, as they have seen too many soft-tissue and muscle injuries - the like of which were not previously seen - running on Synth. If you can prove to me horses - of all classes - are truly better off on Synth.. I am all for it. But, these numbers are skewed, like I say, due to class bias. Mark Dawson In fact, if you go here, and look at the details of the report.... and pick 'similar' meetings... say Saratoga vs Keenland... I am pretty sure you will be swayed by the fact that in 2 of the 3 years, Saratoga was a much safer place to run to avoid death. http://jockeyclub.com/initiatives.asp­?section=2 A closer look will show that the same is true of ALL the classier dirt meetings on display. These numbers are SKEWED...as I say....due to all of the cheap claimers who run on dirt. Vincent Condeni The catastrophic horse injury rate (deaths) on dirt and grass surfaces as compared to synthetic surfaces is appalling! Twice as many deaths and Jockey injuries is unacceptable. The study should also have included whether the dirt and grass courses were wet when the injuries occurred.. As I watch live racing at the Track Online, I notice the Jockeys ride more tentatively and look around more frequently and of course, they are hit more often with slop, mud and grass clods if behind the pace makers. In any event, the conclusions are crystal clear. For humane and safety concerns, responsible Track Owners must begin the conversion from Dirt to Synthetic Tracks ASAP when a consensus among Track and Horse Owners, Jockeys, Trainers and Racing Experts has been reached! To do nothing, is a total lack of leadership and disregard for all participants in our wonderful Racing Industry! Elizabeth You're forgetting one thing. It cost a lot of money to make this conversion and most race tracks that are "bread and butter" tracks where most horses are in the mid level claiming range can't afford that kind of outlay to change surfaces. Andrea Klassen I would like to know the rate of other types of injuries as well... soft tissue, hind end issues, that kind of thing between dirt, turf, and artificial. While it's great to see that the artificial is helping the catastrophic injury rate, I'd still like to know that horses aren't being injured in other, non-life-threatening ways but enough to end their racing careers.
mrnickyb More than 1 year ago
Safer or not, a complete move to synthetic tracks would simply speed up the death of the sport. They are unplayable, unhandicappable, and unwanted by the player. So, there is your choice. Safety for the animals over success of the sport. By the way, when the sport goes so do ALL the animals because there would be no need for them anymore.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If it keeps horses safe it can't be bad.
nancyb More than 1 year ago
Can't believe how this finding touches such a nerve. If you don't like it because you can't handicap on it, just say so. Don't think you can say that synthetic racing surfaces are all high or lower class tracks. Keeneland and Turfway span the range. In some areas the prestigious track is conventional dirt -- say upstate NY with Saratoga and Presque Isle. In another, Chicago, it's the opposite, with Hawthorne is less prestigious than Arlington. So I don't think there's anything unique about the horse populations in these areas.
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
By the way, how do you account for the turf statistic? Most turf races are not low level claimers and the lower level tracks don't card as many turf races if they even have a turf course.
Nick Gunritz More than 1 year ago
It's kind of ludicrous to think synthetic tracks aren't more safe than dirt tracks. That being said I don't think all tracks shoukd go synthetic, but I'm alright with the ones that are. More variety is nice.
Kalic Chambers More than 1 year ago
Golden gate park , presque isle and turf way run pretty low claiming races their synthetic ... I would to see all three SoCal tracks with synthetic compared to the fairs and Santa Anitas dirt track I wonder if any conclusions can be drawn
Stephen Hewlett More than 1 year ago
MIne was one of the comments that was "scrubbed". Basically, I said that I agreed with a previous poster (who was also "scrubbed") ... that the tracks with synthetic surfaces are major tracks and the average class of the horse running at those tracks is considerably better than the average class of the horses running at the smaller venues which have dirt tracks. The average high class horse gets better care and races less often than his less fortunate brethren at the smaller tracks and therefore one would expect the breakdown rate to be less.
Paul Warfield More than 1 year ago
Interesting that the previous comments on this article were scrubbed... It is certainly true that synthetic surfaces reduce the incidences of bone injuries, which are often responsible for catastrophic breakdowns. But setting aside for the moment the fact that they also increase the incidences of soft tissue injuries, people's willingness to gobble down and regurgitate the most superficial conclusion from the study suggests that they aren't making the slightest attempt to be objective. Either that, or they haven't a clue how to interpret statistics. From 2009 through 2011, there were four fatalities from 4,908 races run on the dirt track at Saratoga, which is less, percentage-wise, than the overall average for synthetics. It is also HALF of the percentage of fatalities over the same period from races run on Hollywood's "Cushion Track". Gee, ya think that there might be some other variables to consider?
Chris Walsh More than 1 year ago
Yeah, I would also like to see data on the breakdown rate of 10k claimers and graded stakes runners. I believe the lower the purse the higher the chance of a breakdown.
Dan Clinton, RN, BSN More than 1 year ago
Paul, You are completely correct. This is a very misleading statistic that doesn't adequately factor in a whole host of other confounding variables that could skew the results, and you are equally correct that most people have no clue how to interpret statistics.
steve szymanski More than 1 year ago
You want a good survey............. Only use horses that raced at least 12+ times in a year. These are probably the "sound" horses that shouldn't be breaking down - instead of the horse that races 4-5 times and is expected to be in peak form because of rest. This entire sport is going to hell. More money. less races. breed, breed, breed, breed. And then run 10x in a vareer and breed, breed, breed. HEY POWERS THAT BE. .............Just like we have claiming races to set a standard in running, we should have a set breeding price for ACCOMPLISHMENTS ON THE TRACK. If a horse runs 3x and breaks 2 track records and wins a G1, he should get more in the shed for a horse that ran 40x and PROVED his worth, durability and soundness. The breeding shed is making horses weak.