Letter To The Editor: The Numbers Speak Loudly

Gulfstream Park Tapeta | Ryan Thompson

After reading the various commentaries over recent days by Ambassador Mack and Bill Finley and the Letters to the TDN Editor on the synthetics debate, I heard Bill say during this week's TDN Writer's Room that we could reduce fatalities by the hundreds with a surface shift. A close analysis shows the numbers are much greater than that.

First a step back. The industry needs a revamp in the way we present this discussion to the public at large and those opponents who would have our “social license” go the way of the circus or greyhound racing. The public sees round, large numbers, not a statistic of “fatal injuries per 1,000 starts” as provided by the Equine Injury Database. That is statistical measure that we use in our own echo chamber, but one that has very little meaning to those outside of the industry. The public (and non- industry press) see 21 deaths at Aqueduct in the winter of 2012, 42 deaths at Santa Anita in 2019 and 12 deaths at Churchill Downs in the past month. Headlines repeatedly scream these numbers back at us.

A look at the Injury Database shows 6,036 fatalities on dirt over the past 14 years, a very loud number for opponents to latch on to. While granted that most starts in the database were on dirt, if we were to apply the fatality rate on synthetics over the same period (1.11/1000), those 6,036 fatalities would fall to 3,599 or 2,437 fewer. Considering the improvements in synthetic surfaces over the past 10 years, the rate per thousand for synthetics over the past decade is .87/1,000. Applying this rate to the dirt fatalities brings the number down to 2,820, a reduction of 3,216.

Not hundreds, but thousands of horses might be saved. While obviously not a popular stance with everyone, these numbers speak loudly in support of Ambassador Mack's position and might enable us to reframe the numbers and, most importantly, the public's perception.

Rodman J. Law is an attorney with the firm Greenberg Traurig, and is co-founder of the firm's Equine Industry Group.

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