Mid-Atlantic tracks showed generally positive trends in the numbers of equine fatalities in 2020, according to newly released data from the Equine Injury Database (EID) – at least, those tracks who make their numbers available to the public did.

The three Maryland Thoroughbred tracks – Laurel, Pimlico, and Timonium – along with Delaware Park, Monmouth Park, and Colonial Downs all make their numbers available to the public. On the other hand, Parx Racing, Penn National, and Charles Town do not; and Presque Isle’s numbers haven’t been updated since 2018.

Nationally, the rate of equine fatalities was 1.41 per 1,000 starts in 2020; for the Midlantic tracks whose numbers are public, it was 1.26.

The EID statistics are based on injuries that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the date of the race. The statistics are for official Thoroughbred races only and exclude steeplechase races. 

Both the national and regional numbers are the lowest recorded since the Equine Injury Database kicked off in 2009, and both are part of a downward trend.  Since 2009, Midlantic tracks have seen the fatality rate drop from 1.94 per 1,000 starts to 1.26 this year; that marked the sixth consecutive year in which the number was below the 2009 figure.

Nationally, the trends are even clearer, with 2009’s 2.0 fatalities per 1,000 starts the high-water mark.

The fatality rate declined in Maryland, Delaware, and at Monmouth Park in 2020. While the rate was up at Colonial Downs, that was because a single horse suffered a fatal injury in 2020 after none had in 2019.

At the Maryland tracks – Laurel and Pimlico, as Timonium did not run in 2020 – 13 out of 9,271 starters suffered fatal injuries during the year, equating to a rate of 1.40 per 1,000 starters – virtually identical to the national average. Twelve of those deaths (1.36 per 1,000 starts) occurred at Laurel, while one happened at Pimlico.

Delaware saw just three deaths from 4,068 starters in 2020 – 0.74 per 1,000 starts. That was its best year since 2016 and second best overall. And Monmouth saw five fatalities in 2020, for a rate of 1.36 per 1,000 starts, its best since 2017 and third best overall.

Because deaths are ultimately rare occurrences, the figures can have a lot of noise in them; a single incident or two can have a major impact on the numbers for a given track.

But looking at three-year averages for the region helps to smooth that out and shows a good trend. After the three-year average hit 2.22 fatalities per 1,000 starts in the Mid-Atlantic in 2014, it has moved in a generally downward direction since. In fact, the single-year number has been 1.76 or less every year since 2014, with the three-year average dropping from that high mark to 1.61 per 1,000 starts as of 2020. That’s a decline of more than 27%.

Of course, the lack of public data for all of the region’s tracks leaves substantial gaps in knowledge. Just last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a lengthy condemnation of the Keystone State’s tracks, saying that horses were dying in what it called “staggering numbers.” And Charles Town Races has come under fire from advocates this year for nine racing fatalities during the first three months of the year.

It’s also worth noting that the decline in the incidence of fatalities has come as both the number of starters overall and number of runners per race have also declined. It may be that a chunk of the progress that’s been made stems from those facts.

Still, it’s also true that the industry has made strides. The national uniform medication program has prompted dozens of states to tighten their medication rules. Efforts such as the Equine Injury Database and the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities have put a focus on equine health and raised awareness of best practices.

There’s plenty more to be done, of course. But a positive trend is, in the end, a positive trend.


NOTE: Figures above include Laurel, Pimlico, Timonium, Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, and Colonial Downs.