The U. S. Jockey Club established The Equine Injury Database in 2008. It now has over four years’ worth of evidence from approximately 94 racetracks. About 30 of these contribute statistics derived from veterinarian reports pertaining to “…Thoroughbreds that succumbed to a race-related injury within 72 hours after the race day.”

Statistical analyses of over 1.5 million race starts in the past four calendar years, by epidemiologist and veterinarian Tim Parkin, found that the fatality rate per-thousand starts remained fairly consistent. The mortality rate was 2.00 in 2009, 1.88 in 2010, 1.88 in 2011, and 1.92 in 2012. But substantive differences emerged when the type of track surface was considered.

The average fatality rate per-thousand starts over the four-year period was 2.08 for dirt, 1.71 for turf, and 1.21 for synthetic. Significantly, the fatality rate for the synthetic alternative decreased from 1.49 in 2009 to 1.03 in 2012, or by an impressive 31%, whereas the fatality rate for dirt in 2012 was exactly the same as it was in 2009 at 2.10.

When these sterile facts are translated into what they mean for the safety of thousands of flesh-and-blood horses and their riders, the demonstrated superiority of the synthetic surface is even more compelling. Based on 2012 data, horses were over twice as likely to suffer injuries and die when racing on dirt vis-à-vis a synthetic surface. This suggests that if most American racetracks were converted to a synthetic surface, the number of racing-caused horse deaths would plummet.

If the premise is accepted that the well-being of jockeys and their mounts is paramount, then the corollary must be that races should be run on the safest sort of track surface available. Yet a sizeable majority of the 211,539 races run from 2009-2012 in North America were on dirt, the most hazardous.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business


  1. Burton DeWitt says

    While I do agree that synthetics are safer, I wish the tracks would consent (or be forced to allow) to NJC releasing track-specific data and class-specific data. If we exclude the cheap claimer tracks from the data, how does that affect the catastrophic breakdown rate on dirt surfaces? Without the ability to know otherwise, I’d have to assume it lowers it significantly. It also could indicate a more pressing concern, namely that class levels are too inherently dangerous because of they attract unsound horses. What is the breakdown rate in 5k claimers?

    The only problem I have with switching over to synthetics now is that a complete overhaul to synthetics may dis-incentivize the synthetic manufacturers from doing two things they still need to do. Frist, they need to continue R&D to make the surfaces even safer. 1.21 is still too high. Second, they need to work to make the surface like dirt in terms of its running style and feel. We already have synthetic tracks that are more like dirt than others; I’m sure they can invent a surface that runs like dirt with the safety of synthetics.

    That said, if not now, the time to switch over is very soon.

  2. The statistics are factual…and synthetic is safest hands down. People who deny it are denying reality.

  3. These survays are BULL! they never mention how many more career ending injuries occur on synthetic and how many jockeys and excersice riders are severly injuried including being paralized on synthetic because it has no give!

  4. Angelo,

    If the statistics are bull let’s see your statistics. Facts are facts. You don’t like what they say.

  5. Orpenhill says

    Why must manufacturers of syntheticstrive to make tracks function like traditional dirt? So that 2f out the winner is clear? To lose the conpetitiveness of racing? Why not like natural turf? Who cares to see horses on their face at the either pole and begging for the line rather than quickening to the finish? Synthetics are safer… The stats prove tht.

  6. Orpenhill says

    I do agree that removing the claimers would alter the breakdown rate ….but I’m thinking it’ll just alter the overall numbers rather than their relation to each other.