The New York Racing Association, Inc. (NYRA) challenges the analysis of horse injuries put forth by the New York Times in their front page article published on Sunday, March 25.
The Times developed a metric for the article referred to as an “incident rate,” defined as the number of times a set of terms (see next paragraph) appeared in official data per 1,000 horse starts. Under this metric, for example, Saratoga Race Course was assigned an incident rate of 5.5 for the years 2009 through 2011. It will be demonstrated below why this incident rate is incorrect, why the methodology behind it is faulty, and how that methodology may lead to misleading results.
The Times’ research method was explained in a sidebar entitled “How the Times Analyzed Data on Horse Injuries” published online at nytimes.com. The article stated that, “To assess how often horses break down or get injured, The Times purchased official data covering more than 150,000 race results from 2009 through 2011. The data are compiled by trained ‘chart callers,’ and used to compile results charts that bettors use to evaluate horses. The Times searched the data for terms indicating that a horse encountered a physical problem: broke down, vanned off, injured, lame, euthanized, died, collapsed, bleeding, or went wrong.”
NYRA asserts that it is unreliable and potentially deceptive for the Times to rely on chart callers’ descriptions of the running of a race to estimate how often horses get injured. Chart callers are trained to describe the manner in which a race is run, not to “assess how often horses break down or get injured.” Chart callers do not follow-up with trainers or veterinarians to determine whether or not a horse has suffered an injury during a race.
Horses may be vanned off for many reasons that have nothing to do with an injury. For example, a jockey may pull up a horse if he or she believes the horse has taken a bad step. In cases like this, the horse is often vanned off as a precaution. This is a common scenario and often the horse is not found to have any physical problems.
For example, during Race 4 at Saratoga Race Course on August 25, 2010, the chart caller comment for Santo Gato reads, “pulled up, vanned off.” This would therefore be included in the Times report as an “incident.” Following trainer and veterinary examinations, nothing was found to be wrong with Santo Gato. He ran 16 days later at Presque Isle Downs on September 10, 2010 and has run 19 times since, posting three victories.
NYRA’s analysis reveals that of the horses that were vanned off at Saratoga Race Course from 2009 through 2011, 19 came back to race, making a total of 149 starts through the end of March 2012. The Thoroughbred Times, in an article posted online Wednesday, April 4, reported that by subtracting these horses that returned to the races, the New York Times incident rate at Saratoga Race Course drops from 5.5 to 3.23.
NYRA concludes, therefore, that there is plausible cause to regard the New York Times’ incident rate metric as faulty and to consider that its purported goal of assessing “how often horses break down or get injured” leads to misleading and incorrect results.
The Jockey Club released its updated North American fatality rate for thoroughbreds on March 22, based on three years of data collected in the Equine Injury Database, the North American database for racing injuries. For the racing industry as a whole, the prevalence of fatal injury per 1,000 starts was 1.98 for 2009, 1.88 for 2010 and 1.88 for 2011. At Saratoga, the prevalence of fatal injury per 1,000 starts was 0.98 for 2009, 1.52 for 2010, and 0.93 for 2011, among the lowest rates of any race track in North America.
This consistent safety record contributes to Saratoga Race Course’s status as one of the best thoroughbred meets in the country, drawing the best horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, and fans.
NYRA has an extensive list of safety and integrity policies and procedures in place at Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course. All three tracks have earned accreditation from the National Thoroughbred Racing Association’s Safety and Integrity Alliance. NYRA is the only jurisdiction in the United States where official racetrack vets administer Lasix, preventing private vets from entering a horse’s stall on race day. NYRA also employs best practices for pre-race exams, during which vets conduct comprehensive exams during the morning on every horse entered to race that day.
NYRA was the first racing jurisdiction to implement a jockey advocate program, designed to assist jockeys taken to area hospitals after an accident. Under the program, a Registered Nurse serving as the jockey advocate is on call during all NYRA races. If a rider is taken to the hospital, the jockey advocate meets the injured rider at the hospital to ensure that he or she is well cared for, and assist both jockey and family members with medical and administrative matters. NYRA also adopted a system originally conceived by Keeneland and created in collaboration with InCompass that uses a secure online database to store jockeys’ updated medical histories and makes it possible for emergency medical personnel at racetracks to instantly access that information.
NYRA has also partnered with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (NYTHA), the New York Thoroughbred Breeders Inc. (NYTB) on a number of initiatives aimed at developing second career opportunities for thoroughbreds who have been retired from racing.
The recently-announced TAKE2 program creates new avenues for thoroughbreds after their racing days are over by expanding the demand for the breed in the horse show world. In addition, NYRA and NYTHA, as well as NYTB, have signed on to contribute to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s new program to retrain and adopt out as many as 100 horses per year retired from NYRA tracks. NYRA and NYTHA’s financial commitment to these efforts totals more than $250,000.
Additionally, NYRA and NYTHA joined a broad-based group of thoroughbred industry stakeholders that recently announced the establishment of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) – an organization designed to serve as both the accrediting body for aftercare facilities that care for thoroughbreds following the conclusion of their racing careers and a fundraising body to support these approved facilities.
By NYRA Press