Are Horses More Likely to Break Down on Wet Tracks? The Stats Say No

Saratoga tractors | Sarah Andrew


Are wet tracks more dangerous than dry ones? According to statistics compiled by the Jockey Club, the answer is no.

The TDN reached out to The Jockey Club and asked it to dig into the Equine Injury Database and provide us with statistics regarding breakdowns and various dirt track and turf course conditions. The study was conducted by Dr. Euan Bennet and Professor Tim Parkin and covered the years 2021 and 2022.

On the dirt, there were 419 fatalities on tracks listed as fast during those years from 308,954 starts. That comes out to 1.36 deaths per 1,000 starts. The numbers varied little on tracks listed as something other than fast. Below are the statistics covering all track designations:

Condition       Starts              Fatalities          Fatalities Per 1k starts
Fast                  308,954                 419                              1.36
Frozen              29                            0                                0.00
Good                22,147                    38                               1.72
Heavy               95                            0                                0.00
Muddy             17,936                    22                                1.23
Sloppy              25,085                   36                                 1.44
Slow                  58                           0                                 0.00
Wet Fast         2,541                        3                                 1.18

The possibility that track conditions were a factor in breakdowns came into play in 2019 when 30 horses died at Santa Anita in what was an unusually wet period in Southern California. Since, 1/ST racing, which owns Santa Anita, has been cautious when it comes to inclement weather and has, on a number of occasions, canceled racing on days when there has been a lot of rain.

When it comes to turf racing, the numbers look similar. On courses listed as firm there were 91 fatalities from 81,434 starts. That comes out to 1.12 deaths per 1,000 starts, again, in line with all other course conditions. Below are the statistics covering course conditions in the grass.

Condition       Starts              Fatalities          Fatalities Per 1k starts
Firm                  81,434                   91                                1.12
Good                12,542                   9                                  0.72
Soft                   175                       0                                   0.0
Yielding            1,567                     2                                  1.28

“For the two years of data studied–2021 and 2022–there were no statistically significant differences in incidences of fatality found to be associated with track condition on either dirt or turf surfaces, Bennet and Parkin concluded.

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