JC / Railbird

Statistically Significant

With two years of data in the Equine Injury Database, the Jockey Club is out today with updated fatality rates. The overall rate declined to 2.0 per 1000 starts from the 2.04 reported earlier this year. By surface, the rates are 2.14 on dirt (unchanged), 1.74 on turf, and 1.55 on synthetics (down from 1.78):

Parkin noted that the change in the overall fatality rate stemmed from cumulative two-year data that revealed a statistically significant difference in the prevalence of fatality on both turf and synthetic surfaces versus dirt. The difference in the prevalence of fatality between synthetic and turf surfaces was not statistically significant.

Confirms the impression that synthetic surfaces are safer (although the usual caveats apply re: uncertainty of factors such as new track bases, improved vet checks, anecdotal reports of increased non-fatal hind injuries, etc.).

12:55 PM Update: More from Thoroughbred Times: “… horses racing on a synthetic surface were 27.6% less likely to break down …


In terms of “improved vet checks” that’s a wash across all surfaces and would seem to favor synthetics since that number went down while the other surfaces held steady.

But certainly data should be parsed based on when a surface was installed (“new” dirt tracks include Gulfstream, Laurel, Oaklawn, Pinnacle, Zia, and maybe others?)

Posted by EJXD2 on December 15, 2010 @ 11:50 am

>> improved vet checks

see also: stringent policing by the track stewards
and horsemen with a new found conscience

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on December 15, 2010 @ 1:12 pm

You’re right, re: vet checks.

I would very much like to see the data analyzed for age of surface — could it be that all newer surfaces (< 3 years, for instance) have fewer fatalities? Such study might also help answer this question -- now that we know there's a statistically significant difference in fatality rates between synths and dirt, what's the industry's obligation?

Posted by Jessica on December 15, 2010 @ 1:25 pm

You’re right: “could it be that all newer surfaces (< 3 years, for instance) have fewer fatalities?"

Well the newer surfaces certainly do not have wood "by-products" in it the way California tracks used to.

The industry's obligation is to continue racing on the same surfaces that Secretariat, Alysheba and Tim Tam raced on while striving to fix the "modern thoroughbred".

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on December 15, 2010 @ 1:55 pm

The industry’s obligation is to reduce equine fatalities and injuries by every possible means, which includes surfaces as much as anything else.

Posted by Jessica on December 15, 2010 @ 2:26 pm

The industry‚Äôs obligation is to reduce equine fatalities and injuries by every possible means….

Sure. But !

That does not mean throwing the baby out with the bath water. Traditional American dirt racing must be preserved. Centuries of American breeding demands that.

Reducing equine fatalities and injuries must be achieved primarily through medication testing labs and enforcement, resulting in severe penalties to the offenders. Something that has not been happening in many racing jurisdictions.

That is not to say dirt racetracks must not be improved upon or replaced altogether. California should have done just that but they wasted $80 million in that state for synths and now the customers have to pick up the tab. Aint life grand?

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on December 15, 2010 @ 4:34 pm

You’re making that argument to the wrong person, Knight Sky. Breeding shifts with fashion and the market, and so it would if synthetic surface-favoring pedigrees came into vogue or profit.

I don’t disagree at all about medications or drugs. Out with Lasix and Bute, in with more testing!

Getting back to the surface issue, here’s an example of what we’re up against, from a comment left on an Atlantic article:

“And horse racing more and more seems like a blood sport, as horses are routinely injured on the track and need to be euthanized. Whether this is because of poor breeding or something else, the excitement of racing is outweighed by the increasing chances that you will see a horse die on the racetrack.”

Every death — in addition to its inherent tragedy — costs racing in public perception. I’m not going to start agitating for synthetic surfaces everywhere, but today’s TJC release tells us that the surface issue is a live one.

Imagine the worst — a horse goes down next year in one of the Triple Crown races. There’s an outcry, and before long, someone is shouting that dirt is the most dangerous surface and that we know this, and not only that, but we know there’s a surface that 27% safer. All nuances of argument will be lost — all anyone will ask is, why weren’t the horses running on that surface? We need answers better than “tradition.”

Posted by Jessica on December 15, 2010 @ 5:15 pm

With the possible exception of turf I think lumping the surfaces together is misleading and tells us little. These statements imply that the tapeta is the same as polytrack and that Belmont has the same surface as Churchill.

I seem to remember when the first round of statistics came out that some dirt tracks were as safe or safer than some sythetic tracks and one or two small dirt tracks had horrible records which of course brought the overall percentage up. We should be concentrating on this more granular level of data and looking at what and why at individual tracks, not painting all of them with a broad brush that is just going to sensationalize things.

Posted by Nick on December 15, 2010 @ 6:31 pm

Jessica – Good morning. :)

I agree with Nick that certain synthetic surfaces are better than the others. But at this point in the evolution of manufactured main tracks they simply do not mimic traditional American racing.

Many horses like Zenyatta, Street Boss, Evita Argentina, Stardom Bound are all out of their element on the main American racing surface. Some horses handle the transitions but no horse is ever equally proficient on differing surfaces.

And who forecasted that bloodlines fit the parameters of racing on shredded rubber and condoms of California? What will they add next to improve upon these surfaces? Teflon? Pieces of the famed parquet floor from the Boston Garden? That’s voodoo science.

If it took an additional year of data to make the difference more “pronounced” or “significant” then it reveals that the racing industry is needlessly splitting hairs for minor gains. Better results would be obtained by revamping the medication rules, stringent enforcement, heavier penalties for repeat violations.

But the industry has chosen to disregard that in favor of putting all the eggs in the surface basket – and failed to produce results that SATISFY PUBLIC OPINION. The customers are not buying these surfaces and they’ll continue to shun wagering on them. A very crucial point.

It was rarely the “surface” that was problematic when I started out learning the game. It was the fragility of the horse – and it still is.

Posted by The_Knight_Sky on December 16, 2010 @ 9:32 am

[…] An experiment with Storify. If there was a theme to the chatter, or to the comments left on this post, it’s that the fatality stats aren’t enough on their own going forward. Now that we […]

Posted by Jessica Chapel / Railbird v2 - Odds and Ends on December 16, 2010 @ 9:34 am