Midlantic rate of equine fatalities dropped in 2021

The rate of equine fatalities in the Mid-Atlantic continued to decline in 2021, according to Equine Injury Database data released March 29 by The Jockey Club. The decline mirrored that taking place nationwide.

Among Midlantic tracks permitting their statistics to be released, the fatality rate declined to 1.15 per 1,000 starters. That’s the lowest the tracks have seen since the EID came into being in 2009; likewise, the national rate reached its lowest level ever, 1.39 per 1,000 starters.

Among the region’s tracks, Colonial Downs, Monmouth Park, Delaware Park, and the three Maryland tracks – Laurel, Pimlico, and Timonium – all permit their statistics to be released individually. Charles Town, Penn National, Parx Racing, and the Meadowlands all participate in the national database – so their statistics are part of the national totals – but do not allow their data to be broken out separately.

Among regional tracks permitting their data to be released, the three-year rolling average of fatalities has come down steadily from 2.05 for the 2009-2011 timeframe to 1.41 fatalities per 1,000 starts during 2019-2021.

For the second time in three years since it returned to action, Colonial Downs did not suffer a single racing fatality in 2021. In the three years since it returned, it has had just one fatality from 3,198 starts.

Delaware Park also had a strong year safety-wise in 2021. The track experienced five fatalities from over 4,400 starts – a rate of 1.13 fatalities per 1,000 starts. After a 2019 spike, the track has had a good record in each of the last two seasons. After hitting a high of 2.45 fatalities per 1,000 starts for the three-year period of 2011-2013, the track’s three-year average this past season dipped to 1.42 fatalities.

In Maryland, despite well-publicized issues with Laurel Park’s dirt course, the gross number of fatalities was the same as in 2020 – 13 – while the rate declined to 1.21 per 1,000 starts. The rate of fatalities at Pimlico was 1.68 per 1,000 starts, while at Laurel it was 1.03 per 1,000 starts. For the second time in three racing seasons, Timonium did not record a racing fatality.

Laurel’s low rate of fatal injury was in part due to its turf course: no horses suffered fatal injuries in 1,279 starts made on the Laurel lawn. Maryland’s three-year average was 1.37 per 1,000 starters.

Monmouth Park experienced 1.46 fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2021 – six in total from more than 4,100 starters. Its three-year average is 1.77, the relatively high number driven by a 2019 spike.

While it might be tempting to identify one or two changes that account for the declines, experts say it’s a complex equation with many factors. Racetrack surface and quality, rules and policy changes, increased scrutiny, a horse’s racing history, even the weather – all can have an impact.

In a 2017 presentation, Dr. Tim Parkin, the veterinary epidemiologist who has consulted on the EID since its inception, observed “significant improvement with a lot of unknown variables.” He said factors like race distance, days since last race, time with the same trainer, age at first start, sex of the horse, and racing on “off” dirt accounted for perhaps 35% of changes in risk to the horse.

That suggested, he said, that most of the “why” of fatality reduction still was unknown, or at least not yet measurable.

Still, progress has been steady – and statistically significant – which is a positive for the industry..

The Equine Injury Database tracks race-related fatalities, defined as horses that die or are euthanized as a “direct result of injuries sustained participating in a race and within 72 hours of that race.” These statistics do not incorporate training or other non-racing fatalities.


Data for Colonial Downs, Delaware Park, Laurel Park, Monmouth Park, Pimlico Race Course, and Timonium.