Get Specific - By Dan Liebman

(Originally published in the April 3, 2010 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)   

The Jockey Club issued a release last week that contained one single number, but it is an important number. Breakdowns are an unfortunate—and, frankly, unavoidable—part of racing Thoroughbreds (or any other breed), and the industry’s registrar reported that the initial finding from a recent study indicates the occurrence of 2.04 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts in North America.

More details will be forthcoming from the study, which is part of the Equine Injury Database, begun in 2008 as an objective of the first Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit two years earlier. The third summit will be held this summer, at which time more information will be released.

What The Jockey Club did say is that the breakdown number is based on 378,864 starts at 73 participating racetracks. The one-year sampling period, which began Nov. 1, 2008, includes only flat races. As of March 23, 81 racetracks are now submitting data, along with the National Steeplechase Association. According to the release, the 81 tracks represent 86% of the flat racing days in North America.

(The study is being underwritten by The Jockey Club, which has provided tracks reporting tools through its InCompass subsidiary).

Owners should certainly peruse the list of tracks that submitted information (available at and question whether they should run their horses at tracks not making data available.

They should also question The Jockey Club, the racetracks, and the leaders of the Welfare and Safety Summit because the release from The Jockey Club said it agreed with the racetracks to “not provide statistics that identify specific participants, including racetracks, horses, or persons.”

The response of owners and breeders should be that this is not acceptable; this is not information that should be kept secret.

Every owner and/or breeder of a Thoroughbred is entitled to the information, on an annual basis, in order to make decisions about his or her racing stable—what trainers to employ, what tracks to race at, even what sires to breed to or purchase horses by.

Though the compilation of data has only just begun—and obviously like many other studies, it takes years of research to form opinions on trends and findings—sharing the information would allow industry participants to digest and use it in their own ways and make it easy to follow the progress, or lack of progress, of every track.

Also, at a time when there is considerable discussion and disagreement regarding synthetic versus dirt surfaces in North America, this information, presented track by track, is invaluable.

The cries to release this information should come from numerous organizations and individuals, starting with state racing commissions. How can a regulatory body charged with overseeing racing in a jurisdiction not feel it is important to release figures related to how safe its racetracks are? California requires such information through its necropsy program. Others state agencies should follow suit.

Racetracks must participate in the Equine Injury Database to apply for accreditation through the NTRA Safety Alliance. What would happen if the Alliance required not only participation, but the release of the information? If that caused tracks not to apply for accreditation, that would say a lot about the track’s sincere desire to take care of safety.

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, which oversees the American Graded Stakes Committee, requires racetracks to participate in its drug testing protocol in order to have its races considered for grading. The committee should also consider requiring racetracks not only to participate in the Equine Injury Database but to release their number of fatal injuries each year.

Of course, the agreement between The Jockey Club and the tracks only says The Jockey Club will not release information about specific tracks, persons, or horses. It does not say a track cannot release the information itself.

Owners and breeders should demand it be released by someone.


Leave a Comment:


Don't worry.  

When the Government has to finally step in, they'll "Demand" that the information be released.

Then "Everyones" in for it.

30 Mar 2010 9:49 PM

What I find odd is that they went in a round-about way instead of stating the fact that 773 fatalities occurred in NA horse racing last year.  Doesn't anyone else believe this is too many?  I watched a lot of races this year, and I saw quite a few breakdowns..

..and each one hurt my senses.  I realize that sometimes it's a misstep, or a genetic defect, or some other aberration that has no direct correlation to the track itself.  Do they count the horses that died a day after a race, like Sailor's Cap after winning the Poker Stakes?  Nope, maybe not, since it wasn't on the track.  We definitely need better specifics to be able to identify which tracks' conditions actually had a direct bearing on a fatality, and which fatalities were results of the frailty of the horse itself.

31 Mar 2010 10:04 AM

Certainly agree with Mr. Liebman's concerns. Mr. Liebman- would be helpful to publish the specific wording of the Agreement relative to this issue, or supply a link. Also, the mechanism and oversight on how each racetrack computes their figures...These issues require a broader airing.

31 Mar 2010 4:09 PM

If 2 Year Old racing were banned the breakdown numbers would drastically reduce and the number of lifetime starts per horse could potentially  increase.  STOP blaming the breeding and bloodlines.  It's the use of the undeveloped animals causing the problem. A horse grows until he is six.  Blaming the bloodlines is completely uneducated guessing and a waste of reader's time. Some states have caught on and won't allow two year old racing.  

31 Mar 2010 6:10 PM

This just proves that the horse racing community isn't serious about improving race track safety.

Otherwise, what are they afraid of? Perhaps that synthetic might prove safer than  dirt, thereby putting many gamblers and handicappers outa business?

31 Mar 2010 10:12 PM

Really erin-heather, specifically what states in the US supposedly "won't allow two year old racing"?  

And please cite your studies and facts to back up your opinion about 2YO racing.

Here is but one study that indicates you're the one who's uneducated on the subject:

There's also several other studies by real experts that confirm Dr. Bramlage's research linked above.  Google "Dr. Wayne McIlwraith" and  "Dr. Sheila Lyons" to find them.  

31 Mar 2010 10:50 PM
Slew do you not consider bloodlines, when a distinct genetic defect has already been established in Unbridled's Song's progeny.  Bloodlines are telling.  Perhaps we need more research and less defensiveness.

Horses are not fully mature until they are you also believe we should ban 3 year old racing?  Just asking.  Sprint exercises are actually very good for a 2 year old, which may be why that's all they compete in until 3.

01 Apr 2010 10:47 AM


really - quoting an expert who happens to be a racing insider and who derives his paycheck from the establishment of the sport is hardly objective. However, an important question would be, what is the ROW's(rest of the world) incidence of breakdowns compared to ours. Why? The meds, the meds that are not allowed elsewhere...

Dr. McIiwraith said, "We also must examine other purported injury factors, such as durability, 2-year-old racing, and medication..."

Hmm - that would not support your point, would it?

01 Apr 2010 12:09 PM

There's nothing wrong with racing 2 year olds.

Although IMO.....I believe that it should "Not" be allowed before July 1st of each year and also "No" further than an even 1 Mile.

If i'm not mistaken???, even the Breeders Cup Juvenile was originally a flat 1 Mile race ???

They should go back to that !!!

03 Apr 2010 4:18 PM

First exercise, try to find a race for a 2 year old Thoroughbred in the state of Indiana. It's sorta right above Kentucky on the map.

Next, Training Centers seem to be omitted in The Jockey Club study which feeds the Equine Injury Database. Only racetracks and some Steeplechase tracks are included, according to the blog "Get Specific" by Dan Liebman.

Horses do train before they race and many times they can get injured during that time too. If they are collecting and disseminating  published workouts from these training centers, they should be able to collect injury reports as well.

I think we need a study of the study so we can all get smarter, and let the Thoroughbreds mature a little longer. Just an opinion.

15 Apr 2010 5:14 PM

Theres no two year old racing for t-breds in Indiana. Nope.  They race Standardbreds that are two in Indiana. But not T-breds. I don't know about quarter horses running there. They have bigger butts that is all I know. (The quarter horses)

16 Apr 2010 9:31 AM

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