Synthetic tracks show lower fatality rate than dirt

MATT HEGARTY writing for the Daily Racing Form reports:

A racehorse gallops on the artificial surface at California's Del Mar racetrack. Photo (c) Nathan Rupert.
A racehorse gallops on the artificial surface at California's Del Mar racetrack. Photo (c) Nathan Rupert.

Horses running on artificial surfaces suffer fatal injuries at a statistically significant lower rate than horses running on dirt courses, according to epidemiologists who have analyzed data collected for a project tracking equine injuries.

According to an analysis of 754,932 starts over a two-year period ending Oct. 31, 2010, horses running on artificial surfaces suffered fatal breakdowns at a rate of 1.51 per 1,000 starts, compared to a fatality rate of 2.14 breakdowns per 1,000 starts on dirt. The overall rate of fatalities over the course of the study was 2.00 breakdowns per 1,000 starts.

Although the raw fatality rate for artificial surfaces has consistently been lower than the fatality rate for dirt courses, epidemiologists examining the data collected previously had said that the difference had not been statistically significant due to a relative lack of data. That has changed with the collection of additional data over the last six months, officials said.

“The addition of 376,000 starts to the database in year two enabled us to statistically validate certain trends seen in the data,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinarian and epidemiologist from the University of Glasgow who has been retained by the Jockey Club to analyze the data for a project that has been called the Equine Injury Database.

“Trends will continue to emerge and evolve as additional data becomes available for study and as more complex statistical analyses are performed.”

Officials involved in the study have not offered any reasons as to why the fatality rates differ. Biomechanical studies of artificial surfaces have demonstrated that horses’ limbs are subjected to less force and stress when galloping over synthetic tracks, but some horsemen have claimed that those studies ignore a higher rate of soft-tissue injuries on artificial surfaces. No studies have yet demonstrated a higher rate of soft-tissue injuries. Read all at ESPN.com >>

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