I was at a racetrack recently and a filly incurred an injury during a race and was vanned off.  This is sight no one wants to see, similar to when an NFL player is carted off the gridiron.  While injuries are inevitably part of athletic competitions, the heartening fact-based news is that Thoroughbred horse racing in the United States has made significant and commendable progress since the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation launched the Equine Injury Database in 2008.

At the June 2022 Safety of the Racehorse Summit in Lexington, Kentucky, Jamie Haydon, president of Grayson, said: “It is clear that collecting and utilizing comprehensive data is key to maximizing the safety of our human and equine athletes.”  Indeed, longitudinal data on catastrophic injuries provide a quantitative basis, or a benchmark, for evaluating how well the racing enterprise is doing in addressing the causes of on-track equine mortality. 

The Equine Injury Database published its initial results in 2009 and data are currently available through 2021.  A catastrophic injury is defined as one in which a horse dies or is euthanized “as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race and within 72 hours of said race.”  The criterion used to measure how much progress is being made in curtailing the number of deaths is fatalities per 1,000 starts.

In 2009, for Thoroughbred racing only, fatalities per 1,000 starts was 2.00.  In 2021, the figure had decreased to 1.39, or by 30.5%.  Between 2009 and 2021, racetracks experimented with safety improvements in track surfaces, identifying markers for horses most at-risk, how horses are claimed, and other initiatives that the data reflect have made racing a markedly less hazardous sport for jockeys and horses.

The ultimate goal is to have a statistic of 0.00 for fatalities per thousand starts.  While that is a utopian goal, its unrelenting pursuit should continue to produce results.

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