Statistics might not tell the whole story about horse racing deaths

Venezuela, Caracas
Elías Díaz se queda con la titularidad de los Piratas

There’s an expression popularized by Mark Twain that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

It’s upon that premise that the public should be cautiously viewing one of the battle fronts on the future of horse racing : the counting of the equine dead. On the surface, it should be simple. But, with so much at stake, according to industry leaders, the need for accurate reporting and analysis has never been greater.

Advertisement “These metrics are more important than they’ve ever been,” said Alan Balch, executive director of the California Thoroughbred Trainers. “But they need to be right and they need to be understood properly. They all need to be put in context, refined, improved, clarified, expanded and capable of explanation. “

Santa Anita recently put out its closing statement on its winter/spring meeting , lauding its improvements through statistics. It implied that midseason reforms were the impetus behind safer racing, using phrases such as “since the new rules took effect in the middle of March …”

However, many of the reforms, such as the reduction in race-day Lasix , a medication used to ease bleeding from the lungs, have scientifically been proven as having no effect on catastrophic injuries.

The release cited a 58% reduction in racing fatalities after reforms were instituted. Before the track was shut down, it had 4.40 deaths per 1,000 starts through 40 cards and 2,725 starters, information not contained in the release.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer not sure his horses can race at Del Mar this season By John Cherwa Jul 09, 2019 | 5:55 PM — It cited a death rate of 1.86 since the reforms, but did not mentionthat is still above the national average of 1.68 and more than double that of Del Mar last year (0.79) and significantly worse than Los Alamitos last year (1.06). It also didn’t mention other mitigating factors such as fixes to the racing surfaces and better weather, both unrelated to reforms.

— It cited a training statistic of .019, which is a metric that doesn’t exist in racing. It includes gallops, which are not counted and is nothing more than a guess.

The bending of statistics also exists on the side of those seeking the extinction of horse racing. Some animal rights’ groups question official state figures, claiming the deaths of horses with non-exercise-related conditions, which can include laminitis and horses hitting their heads after flipping over in their stall, as ways of bolstering their arguments. Some figures cited offer no explanation or sourcing other than saying that tracks are hiding or covering up deaths.

All of which show that statistics seem to be a pawn in this war of perspectives.

At the center of the national counting is t he Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database (EID), a scientific accounting storehouse that by its own admission tells only half the story. Deaths that occur in morning workouts and training are not counted.

National horse racing deaths This chart shows a 10-year change (2009, 2018) in fatality ratings at tracks that make their reporting to the EID public. These are racing deaths only. It does not take into account if a track had an especially safe or unsafe racing year.

Track Starts ’09 Deaths Rate Starts ’18 Deaths Rate 10-Y Change Track Aqueduct Starts ’09 8,353 Deaths 19 Rate 2.27 Starts ’18 5,750 Deaths 9 Rate 1.57 10-Y Change -30.8 Track Belmont Park Starts ’09 1,192 Deaths 14 Rate 1.57 Starts ’18 6,142 Deaths 6 Rate 0.98 10-Y Change -49.7 Track Del Mar Starts ’09 2,945 Deaths 5 Rate 1.7 Starts ’18 3,812 Deaths 3 Rate 0.79 10-Y Change -53.5 Track Delaware Park Starts ’09 7,413 Deaths 15 Rate 2.02 Starts ’18 4,323 Deaths 7 Rate 1.62 10-Y Change -19.8 Track Ferndale Starts ’09 300 Deaths 1 Rate 3.33 Starts ’18 235 Deaths 0 Rate 0 10-Y Change -100 Track Fresno Starts ’09 623 Deaths 0 Rate 0 Starts ’18 403 Deaths 0 Rate 0 10-Y Change 0 Track Golden Gate Starts ’09 11,301 Deaths 15 Rate 1.33 Starts ’18 8,897 Deaths 10 Rate 1.12 10-Y Change -15.9 Track Gulfstream Starts ’09 6,807 Deaths 20 Rate 2.94 Starts ’18 17,763 Deaths 25 Rate 1.41 10-Y Change -52 Track Hawthorne Starts ’09 7,968 Deaths 15 Rate 1.88 Starts ’18 3,347 Deaths 10 Rate 2.99 10-Y Change 59 Track Indiana Grand Starts ’09 4,757 Deaths 5 Rate 2.05 Starts ’18 7,162 Deaths 10 Rate 1.4 10-Y Change 33.3 Track Keeneland Starts ’09 2,851 Deaths 2 Rate 0.7 Starts ’18 2,831 Deaths 5 Rate 1.77 10-Y Change 152.8 Track Laurel Starts ’09 8,585 Deaths 17 Rate 1.98 Starts ’18 11,734 Deaths 22 Rate 1.87 10-Y Change -5.5 Track Lone Star Park Starts ’09 5,385 Deaths 10 Rate 1.86 Starts ’18 3,076 Deaths 8 Rate 2.6 10-Y Change 39.8 Track Monmouth Starts ’09 6,627 Deaths 12 Rate 1.81 Starts ’18 3,881 Deaths 6 Rate 1.55 10-Y Change -14.4 Track Pleasanton Starts ’09 990 Deaths 2 Rate 2.07 Starts ’18 714 Deaths 0 Rate 0 10-Y Change -100 Track Pimlico Starts ’09 1,482 Deaths 3 Rate 2.02 Starts ’18 860 Deaths 2 Rate 2.3 10-Y Change 15.3 Track Portland Meadows Starts ’09 4,246 Deaths 16 Rate 3.77 Starts ’18 2,176 Deaths 5 Rate 2.3 10-Y Change -39 Track Presque Island Starts ’09 6,166 Deaths 8 Rate 1.3 Starts ’18 5,829 Deaths 2 Rate 0.34 10-Y Change -73.8 Track Remington Park Starts ’09 5,796 Deaths 14 Rate 2.42 Starts ’18 5,490 Deaths 12 Rate 2.19 10-Y Change -9.5 Track Sacramento Starts ’09 627 Deaths 0 Rate 0 Starts ’18 428 Deaths 0 Rate 0 10-Y Change 0 Track Santa Anita Starts ’09 5,961 Deaths 5 Rate 0.84 Starts ’18 8,833 Deaths 18 Rate 2.04 10-Y Change 142.8 Track Santa Rosa Starts ’09 700 Deaths 4 Rate 5.71 Starts ’18 412 Deaths 1 Rate 2.43 10-Y Change -57.4 Track Saratoga Starts ’09 3,072 Deaths 3 Rate 0.98 Starts ’18 3,095 Deaths 3 Rate 0.97 10-Y Change -1 Track Stockton Starts ’09 564 Deaths 1 Rate 1.77 Starts ’18 247 Deaths 0 Rate 0 10-Y Change -100 Track Suffolk Downs Starts ’09 7,369 Deaths 19 Rate 2.58 Starts ’18 850 Deaths 2 Rate 2.35 10-Y Change -8.9 Track Turfway Park Starts ’09 8,958 Deaths 15 Rate 1.67 Starts ’18 4,017 Deaths 8 Rate 1.99 10-Y Change 19.2 Track Wodbine Starts ’09 14,254 Deaths 15 Rate 1.05 Starts ’18 10,370 Deaths 11 Rate 1.06 10-Y Change 0.9 Churchill Downs does not make its numbers public through EID. Public record requests from the Louisville Courier Journal show the last three years ratings at: 2.73, 1.84, 2.7.

Source: Source: Equine Injury Database/The Jockey Club

Dr. Tim Parkin, a veterinary epidemiologist at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, is the chief researcher for the database. He would like to add workout data but admits it brings with it a series of challenges.

“Our models would be more predictive if we included workout data,” Parkin said. “But trying to understand the risk of a morning workout would be a depth of analysis that would not compare to the racing model. It would be two separate models.

“You would have to record not only the workout, but the distance and the intensity of the workout and other factors that could be different from racing.”

Craig Fravel, a former Del Mar executive and current president and chief executive of the Breeders’ Cup, sees things headed the way of more complete reporting.

“Over time we need to evolve that way,” Fravel said. “It’s a much different world now. In California there is a lot more training over tracks that are being raced on. In other countries it’s a lot more spread out. It’s a lot more complicated to make sure there are regulatory vets on site for accuracy. It’s not as simple as it might sound.”

The number of deaths associated with Santa Anita at its recent meet is 30, but as far as the EID is concerned it’s 17, because that is the number of horses that died during racing.

California, along with New York, is one of the most transparent states when it comes to the reporting of deaths.

Opening of Los Alamitos thoroughbred meeting brings unwanted scrutiny By John Cherwa Jun 28, 2019 | 12:35 PM “California has always had a fatality reporting monitoring system,” said Dr. Rick Arthur, chief equine medical director for the California Horse Racing Board. “We have a very robust accounting system, where we include colic, ponies [the horses that lead race horses to the track], those that ship in and are injured in the van and end up being euthanized when they stop at a track.”

The rules that the EID use is to count any horse that dies within 72 hours of running.

Under those rules, Barbaro, whose fight for survival over several months after being injured in the 2006 Preakness, would not have been a racing death.

“When Barbaro was injured I started getting calls from local and national media about if this was unusual and what would be the outcome,” said Dr. Mary Scollay, for a few more weeks the equine medical director for Kentucky before becoming executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium (RMTC) in August.

“I had all these reports but had no answers because everyone kept their own records. Information didn’t transfer, everyone kept their own records. I approached my regulatory colleagues about a national reporting system and the Jockey Club presented interest.”

Sign up for our horse racing newsletter » Kristin Werner, senior counsel of the Jockey Club, and Matt Iuliano, executive director of the Jockey Club, oversee the database.

“Each year we add a couple of categories of reporting,” Iuliano said of the more than 40 they currently track. “We have a library that creates internal triggers that allows us to look at data and follow up through the charts and video replays. It’s a very thorough system. ‘Vanned off’ [in the charts] is a trigger for Kristin to check against.”

Werner said one of the first things to check is if the horse started again.

Then we don’t follow up,” Warner said.

Despite the perceived unanimity in the reporting of injuries, there are major holes. Even though more than 110 tracks report to the database, less than a third of them allow their stats to be made public. Every track in California makes its data public on the website except Los Alamitos, whose data can be obtained through the CHRB.

Among those tracks that didn’t make statistics available through the EID website was Churchill Downs, the most recognizable track in the U.S. The Louisville Courier-Journal, through public records requests, confirmed the fatality rate at Churchill Downs last year was 2.73 per 1,000 starts, the highest in the country next to Hawthorne, near Chicago, which had a 2.99. Last year, Santa Anita’s fatality rate was 2.04.

Advertisement Santa Anita horse racing deaths Year Starts Deaths Rating Year 2009 Starts 5,961 Deaths 5 Rating 0.84 Year 2010 Starts 5,237 Deaths 8 Rating 1.53 Year 2011 Starts 6,472 Deaths 19 Rating 2.94 Year 2012 Starts 6,925 Deaths 18 Rating 2.6 Year 2013 Starts 6,836 Deaths 15 Rating 2.19 Year 2014 Starts 9,211 Deaths 21 Rating 2.28 Year 2015 Starts 8,920 Deaths 19 Rating 2.13 Year 2016 Starts 8,826 Deaths 25 Rating 2.83 Year 2017 Starts 8,463 Deaths 20 Rating 2.36 Year 2018 Starts 8,833 Deaths 18 Rating 2.04 Source: Equine Injury Datbase/The Jockey Club

Santa Anita broken down 2009-2018 Category Subset Starts Deaths Rating Category Age Subset 2 Starts 6,038 Deaths 4 Rating 0.66 Category Subset 3 Starts 27,406 Deaths 53 Rating 1.93 Category Subset 4+ Starts 42,240 Deaths 111 Rating 2.62 Category Surface Subset Turf Starts 15,593 Deaths 36 Rating 2.3 Category Subset Dirt Starts 41,447 Deaths 95 Rating 2.29 Category Subset Synthetic Starts 7,835 Deaths 6 Rating 0.76 Category Subset Dwn Turf Starts 10,809 Deaths 31 Rating 2.87 Category Distance Subset