The Jockey Club’s (TJC) oft-cited, much-ballyhooed “Equine Injury Database” (EID) demands our attention, especially in light of recent “record safety rates.” 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 the racing industry’s attempt to assuage increasing uneasiness over its product – a simple marketing device. But because it’s the storied JC doing the publishing, that avalanche of stats reads ever so convincing. Until, that is, you start peeling back. So, let’s.
First, the database is completely voluntary. While most tracks participate, some do not. Besides that, no third party – not TJC, 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, after all, the longer makes their efforts seem all the more impressive – are tracks that no longer exist: Atlantic City (closed 2015), Bay Meadows (closed 2008), Beulah Park (closed 2013), etc. By my count, there are well over a dozen shuttered racetracks still “participating.” Imagine that.
Of the active tracks that do participate, only a minority do so publicly. Put another way, the 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, no details – which, again, gives us no chance to confirm. 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 each year, making the kill rate per 1,000 horses much higher than per starts – certainly a number they are loath to tout.
And now, the big ones.
Missing altogether from TJC’s data are the following:
Death in training is at least as common as in race. In addition, there are more than twice as many private training facilities in this country as public racetracks – and no one, because they’re private, is tracking those.
Roughly half of the 60 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…
Here is what I previously wrote regarding a pair of steeplechase kills at Saratoga: Both were Thoroughbreds; both, obviously, died on that same hallowed Saratoga track; both races were pari-mutuel. In other words, there was no rational reason to exclude them. Except that doing so helped make Saratoga’s (the industry’s) kill-rate better.
Death, usually painful and terrifying (colic, laminitis, et al.), in the stall is every bit as much an industry kill as one occurring on-track. These are still-very-much-active horses, usually in between races, and most of them still in puberty.
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 not only leaves out those euthanized beyond 72 hours (injury that doesn’t heal, unsuccessful surgery) but also, as a rule, the countless others euthanized for race-related injuries off-site (owner’s farm, at a rescue). 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 in 2020. But according to the NY Gaming Commission, there were three. Not counted, presumably, was Con He Win, killed Aug 26: “broke through starting gate, ran through rail – euthanized.”
The numbers at Remington Park are even more revealing. In 2020, Remington, says the TJC, had 6 racing kills; the Oklahoma Racing Commission (via my FOIA) says 12 – twice as many. Which ones were omitted? Perhaps: Baddowndasher, Mar 19, “collapsed, severed spinal cord”; Might B Magic, Mar 28, “lacerated tendon”; Oasis Beauty, Oct 1, “collapsed after race, died in shedrow.” 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. Other 2020 racing deaths:
Belmont: 6 reported by TJC; 7 reported by Gaming Commission
Delaware: 3 reported by TJC; 4 reported by Dept. of Agriculture
Gulfstream: 26 reported by TJC; 27 reported by DBPR
Indiana Grand: 11 reported by TJC; 13 reported by Racing Commission
Laurel: 12 reported by TJC; 14 reported by Racing Commission
Lone Star: 5 reported by TJC; 8 reported by Racing Commission
Monmouth: 5 reported by TJC; 6 reported by 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, head traumas, broken necks, severed spines, and possibly others. In all probability, their “racing fatalities” are strictly confined to catastrophic leg fractures – and maybe not even all of those.
So, to recap: Participation in the database is voluntary; of those tracks that do participate, most do not allow their information to go public; the dead are not identified; and most important, the following types of kills are utterly omitted in the year-end “statistics” and that neat little rate those stats spawn: Training, Quarterhorse, Steeplechase, Stall. In short, TJC’s “Equine Injury Database” is a fraud. If you want the full truth on American horseracing carnage, stay right where you are.