It’s always something of an elephant in the room when discussing the sport of horse racing, but happily new stats released by the BHA reveal that the fatality rate in British racing is at an all-time low, based on a five-year rolling average.
The numbers also suggest that the high fatality rate in 2018 was an anomaly, and that the overall picture as far as equine welfare is concerned is much healthier.
That 2018 season, not aided by tough conditions given the poor year weather-wise, saw a fatality rate of 0.22% – 201 deaths from more than 93,000 horses. That was higher than any individual year since 2014.
Fortunately, that figure dropped back to normal levels in 2019, with 173 fatalities from nearly 92,000 runners equating to 0.19%, which brings the five-year average down to the same figure. Compared to the 0.28% of fatalities recorded in the same period to 1998, it’s a huge stride forwards.
A raft of changes brought in by the BHA, designed to improve safety in training and on race day, will surely have contributed to the decrease, as well as more sophisticated veterinary expertise, improving racecourse conditions and a more robust approach to ensuring equine welfare standards are met.
The organisation’s director of equine health, David Sykes, said:
“As with all elite sports and all activities involving horses, horse racing carries an element of risk. It’s the responsibility of the BHA and everyone involved in the sport to ensure we do everything possible to minimise that risk and to ensure no injury or fatality occurs which could reasonably have been prevented.
“We must continue to raise our ambitions when it comes to safety. New research methods, science and the use of data affords constant opportunities to learn and improve.
“In the near future, the publication of the Horse Welfare Board’s strategy for welfare in racing, and the development of a detailed predictive risk model for jump racing, are exciting moments for the sport. Both present genuine opportunities to drive further change.”
How Does British Racing Stack Up Worldwide?
The general global trend seems to be of improving standards in the protection of horses.
In the US, they measure horse racing fatalities per 1000 starters, and the current national rate of 1.68 is as low as it has been for some time. Even ‘problem’ tracks like Santa Anita appear to have slightly mended their ways in the second half of 2019, bringing their own fatality rate down to 1.86.
In Australia, a report released in August 2019 revealed that 122 horses had died on the track in the preceding year from around 182,000 starters – less than 0.01%. That is down mostly to the absence of jumps racing in the country, as well as fewer meetings on turf.
Meanwhile, for the last published set of statistics for 2014-18, in Hong Kong the fatality rate in horse racing is 0.6%
However, the figures aren’t always that easy to get hold of, and it is easy for racing authorities to ‘massage’ the numbers by separating racing and training deaths, as well as defining what a ‘fatality’ is, i.e. how long the horse dies after its run if it suffers health complications.
As such, the BHA has to remain vigilant, and take a stand to ensure even the encouraging stats of 2019 are improved upon further.