A news report titled “Exercise Rider Injured, Thoroughbred Euthanized After Breaking Down at Del Mar” appeared in the August 21, 2016 Los Angeles Times.  The narrative read in part:  “The 3-year-old filly Alicanto …became the 16th horse during this summer’s meeting to suffer a fatal injury during training or racing at Del Mar…”

The last year that Del Mar had a synthetic racing surface was 2014.  According to statistics from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, the number of fatalities per 1,000 starts in 2014 on Del Mar’s synthetic surface was 1.75.  The next year Del Mar took out its synthetic surface and replaced it with dirt; the number of fatalities per 1,000 starts rose to 2.44 on dirt (compared to a 1.78 average on dirt for all North American racetracks in the Equine Injury Database).

The Equine Injury Database reveals that Del Mar’s turf course is terribly inconsistent in terms of safety from year to year.  Following are the number of turf fatalities per 1,000 starts from 2009 through 2015 (the numbers in parentheses are the number of turf fatalities per 1,000 starts for all North American racetracks):

2009 1.43 (1.94)

2010 1.40 (1.60)

2011 5.30 (1.54)

2012 2.66 (1.74)

2013 1.26 (1.38)

2014 3.69 (1.75)

2015 1.83 (1.22)

In 2009, 2010, and 2013, the Del Mar turf course was safer than the average turf course at other racetracks in the Equine Injury Database.  However, in 2011, 2012, 2014, and 2015 the Del Mar turf course was more hazardous than the average turf course.  In 2011, 2012, and 2014, the Del Mar turf course was very unsafe.

One inference is clear from statistics in The Equine Injury Database:  synthetic surfaces manifestly produce the least fatalities per 1,000 starts of any surface and therefore Del Mar management increased the risk of racehorses dying when it opted to replace its synthetic surface with dirt, as shown by the increase in the number of fatalities from 1.75 in 2014 on synthetic to 2.44 in 2015 on dirt.  Moreover, there is strong evidence that Del Mar has been unable to maintain a consistent turf surface.  Finally, data from 2015 indicate that Del Mar’s dirt surface is less safe than the average for all North American racetracks, although more evidence from additional years is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

The takeaway here is that the surface problems at Del Mar are fixable; if the vast majority of other racetracks can produce lower fatalities per 1,000 starts on turf and dirt, so can a premier track like Del Mar.

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