Ignore the Hype: The Jockey Club’s “Record Low” Death Rate Is a Fraud

The joy in the BloodHorse headline last week was practically palpable: “Equine Injury Database: Another Record Year for Safety.” All of racing, not just at BloodHorse, is celebrating. Here, they’re saying, is proof positive that reform is working; horseracing is becoming safer. Well.

While I have previously addressed The Jockey Club’s (TJC) “Equine Injury Database” (EID), in light of the hype over that “record year,” I feel a revisit is warranted. First, you should know, the only reason the EID exists is because of public and political outcry over Eight Belles’ horrific breakdown at the 2008 Kentucky Derby. It was a marketing device, nothing more, nothing less. And it worked. At least until we came along. Still, it is TJC, meaning that well-intentioned journalists (not the ones at BloodHorse, of course) can easily fall prey to all that supposed tradition and avalanche of stats. It all sounds so convincing. Until, that is, you start peeling back. So, let’s start peeling.

First, the database is completely voluntary. While most tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not the JC, not the states, no one – verifies the submitted data. At the risk of stating the obvious, dead horses are bad for business. So, not only is there no compelling reason for tracks (trainers, owners, etc.) to give a complete accounting, there is a vested interest to not. Self-reporting – an honor system – the kills that they are directly responsible for? Please.

The list of “Participating Tracks” is bloated with long-since defunct venues. Yes, that’s right, included on their list – which the longer, after all, makes their efforts seem more impressive – are tracks that no longer exist: Atlantic City (closed 2015), Bay Meadows (closed 2008), Beulah Park (closed 2013) – and that’s just the “As” and “Bs.” By my count, there are well over a dozen shuttered “participating tracks.” Imagine that.

Of the active tracks that do participate, less than a quarter do so publicly. The great majority of the tracks that submit data don’t allow TJC to attach said data to those specific tracks. Besides being cowardly, this makes it impossible for someone like me to cross-confirm (exceptions to follow).

The database is anonymous. No names, no dates, (mostly) no locations. Once again, no opportunity for me to match. In addition, and clearly by design, it keeps the victims safely secreted away – messy carcasses converted to sterile rates. And speaking of rates…

The key number – “fatal injuries” per 1,000 starts – is (intentionally) misleading. This reads, at least to the untrained eye, as deaths per 1,000 horses. But the typical racehorse logs many starts (up to 25) each year, making the kill rate per 1,000 horses much higher, certainly a number they are loath to tout.

And now on to the big ones. Missing from the data altogether are the following:

Training Deaths
Training kills are at least as common as those occurring in-race. In addition, there are more than twice as many private training facilities in this country as public racetracks. It should not be hard, then, to see how these numbers begin to explode.

Quarterhorse Deaths
Roughly 25% of the 100 or so flat tracks in the U.S. run Quarterhorse races – some exclusively. According to TJC, these poor animals don’t count. And neither do…

Steeplechase Deaths
Here is what I previously wrote regarding a pair of 2017 steeplechase kills at Saratoga: Yet, both (Fall Colors and Meteoroid) were Thoroughbreds, both, obviously, died on those same hallowed Saratoga grounds, both races pari-mutuel. In other words, there was no rational reason to exclude them. Except that doing so helps make the Saratoga kill-rate better, and hence, The Jockey Club’s (industry’s) national rate.

As for the only deaths TJC does include – Thoroughbreds who die while racing – here, too, they employ significant restrictions. From their “Facts” page: “The EID annual statistics and the by-track reports (where available) include all Race Related Fatalities — all horses that die or are euthanized as a direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race and within 72 hours of such race.”

This, of course, leaves out the countless who are euthanized (for race-related injuries) off site (owner’s/trainer’s farm, at a rescue) or outside that 72-hour window (an injury that doesn’t heal, a surgery that goes bad). In other words, more hidden carnage.

And then there is the rather large question of what, exactly, qualifies as a “race-related fatality.” While TJC says these fatalities include “musculoskeletal injuries, non-musculoskeletal injuries, and sudden deaths,” a closer examination reveals otherwise. According to TJC, at Finger Lakes, one of the minority of tracks that airs its numbers, there were two raceday fatalities last year. But according to the NYS Gaming Commission, there were three. Not counted, presumably, was Con He Win, killed Aug 26: “broke through starting gate, ran through rail – injured stifle, euthanized.”

Remington Park offers a more stark example. In 2020, Remington, says the EID, notched 6 racing kills; the Oklahoma Racing Commission (via my FOIA) begs to differ: 12 – twice as many. Which ones were omitted? A quick look at the list reveals obvious candidates: Baddowndasher, Mar 19: “horse collapsed – severed spinal cord”; Might B Magic, Mar 28: “lacerated tendon”; Oasis Beauty, Oct 1: “collapsed after race, died in shedrow [next day].” The other nine, however, were all fractures of one kind or another. With three of these also excluded (pelvic?, scapula?), it would appear that in the eyes of TJC not even all fractures are created equal.

And these two tracks were no anomalies. Racing deaths last year:

Belmont: 6 reported by TJC; 7 according to the Gaming Commission
Delaware: 3 reported by TJC; 4 through FOIA (Dept. of Agriculture)
Gulfstream: 26 reported by TJC; 27 through FOIA (DBPR)
Indiana Grand: 11 reported by TJC; 13 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Laurel: 12 reported by TJC; 14 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Lone Star: 5 reported by TJC; 8 through FOIA (Racing Commission)
Monmouth: 5 reported by TJC; 6 through FOIA (Racing Commission)

Bottom line: It is my firm belief that in direct contradiction to what they claim, TJC does not count cardiac collapses, pulmonary hemorrhages, blunt-force head traumas, broken necks, severed spines, et al. In all probability, their “racing fatalities” are strictly confined to catastrophic leg fractures.

So, to recap: participation in the database is voluntary; of those tracks that do participate, most do not allow their information to be made public; the deaths are unidentifiable (no names, dates, etc.); and most important, the following deaths are NOT included in the year-end “statistics” and that neat, little rate those stats spawn: Quarterhorse, steeplechase, training, at least some racing, and, it goes without saying, stall. Calls to mind Mark Twain’s famous quote: “Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are more pliable.” In short, TJC’s oft-cited, much-celebrated “Equine Injury Database” is a fraud. A complete and utter fraud. For objective, verifiable truth about both the scale and depth of American horseracing carnage, stay right where you are.

*** For 2020, TJC “reports” 322 American racehorse deaths. (TJC number is actually 333, but this also includes Canadian deaths. Unfortunately, the sole Canadian track with public data is Woodbine, so I could only subtract its 11 deaths from TJC total, giving us the 322.) I have documented almost three times that number – 944.

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  1. After all is said about the so-called safety of horseracing, horses still suffer various kinds and degrees of abuse in racing. This abuse inherent to horseracing is not going away regardless of what the Jockey Club or anyone profiting or attempting to profit from exploiting horses may say. When horses are so brutally used and abused for racing and become victims of fatal injuries due to racing or training for racing, they are killed by racing. All of the dead horses are still just as dead regardless of the smoke and mirrors, lies and manipulative tactics to deceive the public.
    Every horse that is killed by racing will not be counted in the “official” statistics.

  2. Patrick thank-you for your dedication and meticulous work on behalf of dead racehorses.
    Another piece of data missing are the STALL DEATHS and there are plenty.
    Stall deaths are unequivocally a direct result of horse racing.
    As you do on your many lists you categorize the deaths: (T) = training (R) = racing (S) = stall and this is so important to clarify because it’s easy to confuse although all are horse racing deaths.
    In some cases, stall deaths occur because of the gross negligence of this industry and “trainers” who have them in their care and custody while sometimes denying much needed vet care.
    Woodbine, located in Ontario Canada, proclaimed that they are transparent when it comes to their dead racehorses, but knowing Woodbine and the entire scene in Ontario their list is probably inaccurate in their favor.
    In fact, via a FOIA request, we were provided with pages of dead racehorses with NO NAMES and/or critical information intentionally missing.
    This is deliberate and malicious on behalf of Woodbine and Ontario horse racing and it’s a matter of time before they are hauled into court for violating FOIA laws.
    If this occurs, than the Trainers at Woodbine will also be part of the lawsuit and called into testify.
    Woodbine received 345 million per year for 12 years of public coffer subsidies including casino profits that were supposed to go to our communities.
    That was eventually reduced to 100 million per year while our politicians slashed thousands of educator and healthcare jobs to pay for it.
    In Ontario, a person is waiting a minimum of 6 months for an MRI because there are not enough machines.
    Yet, our politicians chose to support an industry that they know will never be financially sustainable, will always depend on public handouts while denying essential services that the entire community benefits from not just a bunch of racehorse abusers and killers.
    Horse racing is horse killing.

  3. Thank you, Patrick, for your hard work and dedication to these racehorses. Although, painful to write and read, to know this evil sport needs to end, has to be done..

  4. Can anyone name any other “sport” that has participant deaths anywhere close to horse racing? (I use the term participants only as a loose definition, since in racing horses are obviously non-consenting and are not given a choice, unlike human participants in other venues).

    • There are sports where human beings participate and die because of their participation in the sport, such as football and hockey. But, as you pointed out, Rebecca, we don’t need lists that show “statistics” of dead human beings to show that the sport is safe or safer; as in, so therefore we should keep on killing because it’s so safe…!
      Only in horseracing and it’s Siamese Twin, gambling/betting on racehorses, does The Jockey Club need to perpetrate and perpetuate falsehoods about the so-called “safety” of horseracing (and don’t forget gambling) in order to justify its continued support by the public.

      • Humans might die in these sports you named, but certainly not in the thousands per year. (And they CHOOSE to participate). Can you imagine what would happen if a half dozen football or hockey players every game were carted out in body bags, or were dropping dead during the game, or were found laying exsanguinated in the locker room?
        It’s interesting how the same people who compare injured and dead horses to other athletes in one breath will come back in the next one and say you can’t compare the death of a (mere) animal to the death of a human in terms of importance.

        • We can compare the numbers though. Horses are sentient beings and no animal deserves the abuse, brutality and cruelty that racehorses are forced to endure on a daily basis to the point that many horses die. Of course, the narcissists that love their horses so much (what a cruel joke) will not be having memorial or funeral services for their “beloved” racehorses.

    • Exactly one NFL player has ever died during a game and he died of a heart attack. One NHL player has died during a game and that was from injuries suffered during the game. One MLB player has died during a game when he was hit in the head by a pitch. That was over 100 years ago, they didn’t wear helmets. Most people never guess that bicycling has the most fatalities of any human sport.

  5. If “horse racing is becoming safer” then how is it possible that so many young beautiful living creatures (slave horses) are being discarded like some cruel baby’s plaything at a race track each and every day for pleasure, ego and profit? .Horses are not ours to torture and kill in an EVIL game called “SPORT”. There is no human contender in this kind of “sport”. Horses are cruelly abused victims of a brutal, greedy practice that must be eradicated in a civilized society. SHUT RACE HORCING DOWN NOW!

  6. Patrick, I thank you for the work that you do and the service that you provide. I hope and will pray that in your lifetime you will see some benefit to your dogged efforts for the horses.

  7. One of my “favorite” topics, and it bears repeating (and re-repeating), until the press and the public understands even a few of the complexities of The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Deception. So thank you, Patrick, for renewing your analysis of the criminally-fraudulent EID. Every REAL news and sports journalist would be wise to peruse this post before even attempting to write word one about any U.S. horse racing matter.
    Of course, these reporters could also attempt to get some clarification from Jockey Club officials themselves. You know, interviewing them about their (fake) death numbers, trying to get them to clarify their so-called methodology, and asking them relevant questions about why they claim racing is getting SAFER (when any 7th grade math student can see that it’s getting MORE DEADLY.)
    Ha ha! Just kidding, of course. No one from the highly-respected, uber-credible, and, above all, safety-conscious TJC will ever, ever agree to answer pointed questions from someone outside the cloistered and secretive racing press.
    They’ll stick with softballs from the trade rags, thank you very much.

  8. Horseracing will never be reformed or safe for man or horse. They can try to sell this safety and stats number until blue in the face, however, those in the know, will continue to spread the truth.

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