TOWARD VASTLY REDUCING U. S. HORSE FATALITIES IN RACING AND TRAINING

The British Horseracing Authority in January released horse fatality statistics for 2019.  The five-year rolling average fatality rate is at an historic low.  In 2019, in British racing there were 173 fatal injuries from 91,937 runners for a rate of 0.19%.

Compared to North American racing, British racing is safer by a wide margin.  This indicates that a vast reduction in the number of North American horse fatalities is achievable. 

If one were to build a statistical model with the objective being to identify the factors and their respective importance in explaining annual horse fatalities on American racetracks, several predictor or independent variables would no doubt be of importance, starting with track surface.  The Jockey Club Equine Injury Database has demonstrated that synthetic surfaces are safest, then turf, and lastly dirt.  Put concisely, whenever a dirt racetrack is replaced with a synthetic surface, the fatal injuries will decline.  It is not a coincidence that the vast majority of British races are run on turf.

Other factors would almost certainly include medication policies, prerace veterinary inspection, training methods, and possibly excessive inbreeding. Perhaps even modifying the claiming rule that ownership changes as soon as the gate opens to after the race is over might have a salutary effect.

The Jockey Club and several racetracks, including Churchill Downs and the much-maligned Santa Anita, have recently advanced the cause of safety through initiatives that pertain to some of the aforementioned causal variables.  On the other hand, racetracks in the United States have mostly refused to install the safer synthetic surface that has been proven to mitigate horse fatalities.

The hypothesis here is that widespread adoption of synthetic surfaces, more turf races as a percentage of total races run, standardized medication policy across racing jurisdictions and centralized enforcement authority, and modification of when a claimed horse changes hands, would be a multifaceted approach that would significantly reduce horse fatalities at U. S. racetracks.

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