Slight Uptick in Rate of Fatal Injuries in 2023

Sarah Andrew

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According to numbers compiled by The Jockey Club for its Equine Injury Database (EID), there were 1.32 fatalities per 1,000 starts at North American racetracks in 2023. That was slightly worse than in 2022 when the number was 1.25, the lowest rate of fatalities since The Jockey Club started compiling numbers in 2009. It was the first time the number had increased year-over-year since 2018 when there were 1.68 fatalities per 1,000 starters.

Nonetheless, the figures showed that the sport has made obvious strides since 2009 when it comes to fatalities. In 2009, the rate was 2.0 per 1,000 starters. When compared to 2009, 2023 shows a 34% decrease in risk of fatal injury.

“This change is statistically significant,” said Professor Tim Parkin (University of Bristol), who has consulted on the EID since its inception. “This is equivalent to 171 fewer horses sustaining a fatal injury racing in 2023 than would have occurred had the number of starts remained constant since 2009.”

The 2023 figures were the second lowest since the EID began compiling numbers, surpassed only by 2022.

Analysis of the EID was provided Parkin and by Dr. Euan Bennet of the University of Glasgow.

“There was a slight increase in the rate of fatality from 2022 to 2023 of 5.6%,” Parkin said. “However, this is not statistically significant, and we are encouraged by the low numbers in 2023 that the industry is still headed in the right direction with regard to keeping its horses safe.”

Based on the 2023 data, 99.87% of flat racing starts at the racetracks participating in the EID were completed without a fatality.

Once again, synthetic tracks proved to be the safest among the three types of racing surfaces. There were 0.97 deaths per 1,000 starters on synthetic tracks, 1.13 on turf courses, and 1.43 on dirt tracks.

Races for 2-year-olds proved to be the safest types of races.  There were 0.79 fatalities per 1,000 starters in those races versus 1.37 for 3-year-old races and 1.38 for races for 4-year-olds an upward.

By distance, races run at less than six furlongs showed the fewest fatalities at 1.22 per 1,000. Races run from six to eight furlongs had a rate of 1.37 and for races longer than eight furlongs, the number was 1.32.

During the year, the problems of horses breaking down were magnified by a rash of fatalities at Churchill Downs and Saratoga. At Saratoga in 2023, the rate of breakdowns was 2.55 per 1,000 starters. Churchill Downs does not make its numbers public.

Among tracks that had meets of more than 10 days, one stood out. There were zero fatalities at Del Mar during its racing seasons.

Racetracks under the jurisdiction of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) fared better than non-HISA tracks in 2023. There were 1.23 fatalities per 1,000 starters at HISA tracks, while the number at non-HISA track was 1.63.

“HISA's most important goal is driving down equine fatalities,” said HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus. “We undoubtedly have significant work ahead of us, but I am pleased to see the rate is trending in the right direction. The reduction in the rate of equine fatalities at tracks under our jurisdiction demonstrates that setting high standards for racetrack safety and anti-doping and medication control across the country makes Thoroughbred racing safer.”

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