(Originally published in the April 3, 2010 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
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 jockeyclub.com/initiatives.asp) 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.