Business is booming at the world’s top horse racing tracks, and if you read the recent headlines, so is the rate of horse fatalities. But you will be surprised to find out that despite the dramatic news of horse deaths at Santa Anita Race Track in California, it has actually been a good year for the park’s fatality rate.
Only 25 racetracks in America share information on horse fatalities, and according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, Hawthorne Race Course in Illinois and Churchill Downs in Kentucky were the leaders in fatalities. Churchill Downs does not publicly release its racing deaths, but a recent report in the Louisville Courier Journal claims it has a 50 percent higher death rate than other tracks in America.
The report states that with input from 98 percent of all racetracks in North America, thoroughbreds suffered 6,134 fatal racing injuries between 2009 and 2018. It is also well documented that synthetic race tracks produced fewer fatalities than dirt tracks. None of the North American racetracks on my list have synthetic tracks.
Researchers have also found that contributing death factors include track firmness, increased racing distance, increased horse performance, first-year racing and horses wearing eye covers. Horses with higher performing scores also had an increased risk of fatality. Racing in the Summer and Autumn also increased the likelihood of fatalities.
Here is a five year breakdown of equine racing and training fatalities (not including gastro-intestinal diseases, respiratory disease, and neurological diseases) at the Santa Anita Race Track alone, and should be a wake up call that the industry needs to make some serious changes if they want to stay in operation.
July 2017-July 2018: Santa Anita racing and training deaths=37
July 2016-July 2017: Santa Anita racing and training deaths=54
July 2015-July 2016: Santa Anita racing and training deaths= 57
July 2014-July 2015: Santa Anita racing and training deaths= 39
July 2103-July 2014: Santa Anita racing and training deaths= 45
Despite the recent negative publicity, the world remains fascinated by horse racing, billionaires continue to invest in championship thoroughbreds, and the racetracks around the globe still remain among the most elite. Here is my selection of the top 10 racetracks in the world:
Churchill Downs, Kentucky (opened in 1875, hosts the Kentucky Derby)
Ascot, United Kingdom (opened in 1711, hosts The Gold Cup, King George VI)
Longchamp, France (opened in 1857, hosts Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe)
Epsom Downs, United Kingdom (opened in 1661, hosts Epsom Derby)
Meydan, Dubai (opened in 2010, World’s longest racetrack, hosts Dubai World Cup)
Saratoga, New York (opened in 1863, hosts Travers Stakes)
Tokyo Racecourse (opened in 1933, hosts Japan Cup)
Flemington, Melbourne (opened in 1840, hosts Melbourne Cup)
Aintree, United Kingdom (opened in 1829, hosts Grand National)
Santa Anita, California (opened in 1934, hosts Santa Anita Derby)