Yesterday the Jockey Club released numbers for the North American fatality rate for Thoroughbreds. The number is based on a preliminary analysis of data collected over a one-year period in the Equine Injury Database, the North American database for racing injuries.
The statistics were collected beginning November 1, 2008. From 378,864 total starts in Thoroughbred flat races at 73 racetracks participating in the Equine Injury Database, 2.04 fatal injuries were recorded per 1,000 starts.
Eighty-one racetracks and the National Steeplechase Association participate in the Equine Injury Database, representing 86 percent of the flat racing days in North America. By agreement with the participating racetracks, from time to time The Jockey Club may publish certain summary statistics from the Equine Injury Database, but will not provide statistics that identify specific participants, including racetracks, horses or persons.
According to the New York Times, the fatality rate is nearly twice as high in the United States as in the United Kingdom or Australia. Both of those countries race predominantly on turf.
The Grayson-Jockey Club Foundation, through its Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit Shoeing and Hoof Care Committee, works on hoofcare projects to improve all aspects of safety for horses on the racetrack. The attempts at changing rules for toe grabs and other traction devices during the 2008-2009 racing season were part of an overall program to decrease injuries and breakdowns that might lead to fatalities that would appear in this database.
The period of time covered by the statistics released yesterday includes some months when most states were observing a ban on toe grabs, but not all months of the study. Anecdotally, racetrack shoers at some, but not all, racetracks report a marked decrease in the use of traction-equipped horseshoes in the past five years.
One of the projects of the database is to collect more data on the types of shoes that horses wear when racing. Data from a necropsy project at the University of California at Davis was published in 1996 and was able to document what types of shoes were worn by horses who died while racing and training there.Ongoing hoof research in the Wheat Orthopedics Laboratory at UC Davis by researcher Susan M. Stover, DVM, PhD, ACVS and colleagues adds documentation to the body of evidence that hoof conformation and shoeing affect risk for injury because modifications can amplify loads to bones, tendons, and ligaments. Race surface characteristics, in turn, affect the magnitude and nature of load transferred to the hoof.
While separate tracks and states cannot be segmented from the national study, California does keep its own records. Accord to Dr. Rick Arthur, Equine Medical Director of the California Horse Racing Board, that state has seen a 40 percent reduction in racing fatalities on its new artificial surfaces when compared to statistics for the dirt surfaces in that state going back to 2004. (Plans are, however, for Santa Anita to return to a dirt surface next year.)
At Santa Anita in California and at some other tracks, the meet's horseshoe inspector has started keeping records of the various types of shoes worn by horses as they reach the receiving barn in advance of a race. This practice will hopefully become a national standard, so that shoeing information correlated to racing injuries on a much larger basis.
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