Less than a week after the grotesque image of Zenden breaking down after winning the Golden Shaheen in Dubai went on worldwide display, The Jockey Club announced that the rate of fatal injuries to Thoroughbreds reached the lowest number since the Equine Injury Database was created in 2009.

Zenden’s fatal injury moments after winning a Group 1 race in Dubai last weekend came shortly before The Jockey Club announced Thoroughbred fatalities were at the lowest point since record-keeping began. (Image: DRC)

The EID revealed a 1.41 deaths-per-1,000-starts figure in 2020. That’s down from 2019’s numbers of 1.53 fatalities per 1,000 starts, marking a 7.8% decline from 2019 and a nearly 30% drop since the EID began collecting data in 2009.

Based on these numbers, 99.8% of Thoroughbred flat races run in 2020 went off without a fatality.

The EID statistics are based on injuries sustained in races that resulted in fatalities within 72 hours from the race date. They encompass Thoroughbred flat races at 21 racetracks accredited by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA). No steeplechase or jump races are counted in the survey.

EID reporting is voluntary

Tracks have the option to publish their results in the EID database on The Jockey Club website. The Jockey Club said in a release that tracks publishing results reported 1.30 fatalities per 1,000 starts. Those tracks that do not publish reported 1.42 fatalities per 1,000.

The EID further broke down its data by age, race distance, and track surface. One problematic trend that bucked the overall lower fatality rate involved 2-year-olds. Traditionally the age suffering the lowest fatality rate, the 2020 juvenile rate increased 43% from 2019. The 2-year-old fatality rate rose to 1.69 deaths per 1,000 races.

2020 Key Statistics – Equine Injury Database: Age

Age Deaths per 1,000 starts
2-Year-Olds 1.69
3-Year-Olds 1.57
4-Year-Olds and Up 1.29

For 3-year-olds, the rate dropped 8% to 1.57. For older horses, 4-and-older, the rate dropped 14% to 1.29.

Dirt racing the safest its been since reporting began

Dirt fatalities dropped to their lowest recorded total of 1.49 per 1,000 starts. Turf-race fatalities dropped 19% from 2019 to 1.27. That represents the fourth-lowest total on grass since record-keeping began in 2009. Synthetic fatalities remained the lowest of any surface at 1.02 per 1,000.

2020 Key Statistics – Equine Injury Database: Surface

Surface Deaths per 1,000 starts
Dirt 1.49
Turf 1.27
Synthetic 1.02

The survey revealed that races between six furlongs and a mile (1.35) and races longer than a mile (1.22) were the lowest on record. Conversely, races less than six furlongs suffered the highest fatality rates (1.69).

Going back to Zenden’s tragic injury at Dubai last Saturday, his 50/1 victory in the $1.5 million Golden Shaheen came on dirt at six furlongs.

2020 Key Statistics – Equine Injury Database: Distance

Race Distance Deaths per 1,000 starts
Less than 6 furlongs 1.66
Six furlongs to one mile 1.35
Longer than one mile 1.22

The 5-year-old suffered a compound fracture in his front left leg moments after crossing the finish line with his first group stakes victory. Veterinarians humanely euthanized the horse on the track several minutes later.

“Since 2009, risk has declined by 29.5% — or equivalent to 140 fewer horses sustaining a fatal injury while racing in 2020 than would have occurred had there been no change in risk since 2009,” said Dr. Tim Parkin, the veterinary epidemiologist and primary EID consultant in a release. “We will dig deeper into the numbers in the coming months to better understand trends in the 2020 data.”


  1. Interesting. Good job.
    Was wondering about comparing dry surfaces vs. “Mudders”.

  2. Judy, great question. I didn’t have that data, but now, you’ve turned on the bulb. Hmmm…

    Thank you again for reading.

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