Widespread Investigation Into Spate of US Horse Deaths Begins

  • The new committee will look to see if all-weather surfaces are a solution
  • The group will put together their findings and present them to the HISA
  • Evidence in the UK shows an increase in issues on all-weather tracks
Horse racing
A new committee is looking into the recent uptick in serious horse injuries and fatalities across the US racing sector. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Looking at alternatives

The New York Racing Association (NYRA) is leading an investigation into the surface of racing tracks following a recent spate of horse injuries and deaths. After a significant number of these concerning cases across the US racing sector, the NYRA has created the all-weather surface committee.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) previously called for industry leaders to come together to get to the bottom of the issue. One of the main considerations for the new committee is where it will make sense to roll out of all-weather surfaces across the country in an econimically viable way.

Last year, Churchill Downs had to suspend racing after a string of horse deaths in the build-up to the Kentucky Derby. Racing returned to the track in August, with the deaths supposedly unfortunate accidents.

Many factors to consider

The chair of the new committee is NYRA CEO and President David O’Rourke. He explained that the group will look at a wide range of potential contributing factors to the horse incidents, including the impact of temperatures and weather. They will then put together the various findings and share them with the HISA.

All-weather surface fatalities were 0.41 per 1,000 starts

Equine Injury Database data shows the number of fatalities on US synthetic surfaces is about half the total of those that occur on turf and approximately a third of dirt-track incidents. All-weather surface fatalities were 0.41 per 1,000 starts during the 2022 racing calendar.

The type of injuries and their frequency varies depending on the racing surface.

Conflicting evidence in the UK

All-weather tracks are commonplace in regions with temperamental weather. England currently has six of them, with many trainers preferring these types of tracks due to their consistency.

Belmont Park in New York is home to the final leg of the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing, the Belmont Stakes. This venue is currently building a new synthetic track through a $455m renovation project.

Consistent evidence in the UK, however, points towards all-weather tracks actually increasing the chance of a horse suffering a serious injury or death in comparison to turf races. Colder temperatures lead to the all-weather tracks becoming stiffer, which tends to mean quicker speeds. A study found that this could be detrimental to the health of horses. One other major consideration is the overall lower quality of the horses that compete on these surfaces versus turf.

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