Fatality rate down 14 percent

The overall fatality rate for all U.S. races regardless of surface in 2015 was 1.62 fatalities per 1,000 starts, the lowest level recorded since data on catastrophic injuries began to be published in 2009, according to statistics released on Tuesday by The Jockey Club.

The fatality rate was down 14 percent compared with the same rate in 2014, when horses suffered catastrophic injuries at the rate of 1.89 per 1,000 starts. The rate declined in 2015 on all three types of racing surfaces, with significant declines in the rates for dirt and turf racing, which have long had much higher fatality rates than synthetic surfaces.

The overall fatality rate has hovered near 1.90 catastrophic injuries per 1,000 starts since 2010 despite efforts by many racing officials and racing organizations to reduce the rate through various interventions based on an analysis of the catastrophic-injury database, which was launched in 2009. Over the past several years, some racing officials have acknowledged that they have been somewhat surprised the overall rate had not budged despite the industry efforts to reduce the rate.

Dr. Tim Parkin, an epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow who has analyzed the data over the past seven years as a paid consultant, said that the reduction this year was "very encouraging."

"We will continue to examine data and look for trends, but the wide-ranging safety initiatives embraced by tracks, horsemen, and regulators in recent years have very likely played a role in the reduction of injuries and fatalities," Parkin said, in a release from the Jockey Club.

Synthetic tracks continued to show the lowest fatality rate in 2015, at 1.18 catastrophic injuries per 1,000 starts, down from 1.20 in 2014 and the seven-year average of 1.22. Although synthetic racetracks have posted the lowest fatality rate of any surface every year since the data has been published, the surfaces have fallen out of favor in the U.S. industry, and only a handful of tracks continue to maintain racing over artificial tracks.

The rate for turf racing dropped significantly, falling from 1.75 per 1,000 starts in 2014 to 1.22 in 2015, its lowest point and well below the seven-year average of 1.59 per 1,000 starts. The dirt fatality rate also dropped to its lowest point since the data has been tracked, falling to 1.78 per 1,000 starts in 2015, compared with 2.02 per 1,000 starts in 2014 and the seven-year average of 2.04.

Data sorted by age continued to show that older horses suffered catastrophic injury rates higher than younger horses, with 2-year-olds suffering 1.19 fatalities per 1,000 starts and horses 4 years old or older suffering 1.72 fatalities per 1,000 starts.

Data sorted by distance also maintained previous trends in 2015, with horses suffering fatalities at greater rates in races at shorter distances.

More data from the Equine Injury Database can be found here.