The Jockey Club today released data that some have said "proves" that synthetic surfaces are safer than traditional dirt surfaces. The release was an interesting read, but I think those organizations (Del Mar Turf Club for one) that are definitively stating that this "proves" that synthetics are safer may be jumping the gun a bit.
The statistics show data from two year period of November 1, 2008 to October 31, 2010 and indeed shows a lower fatality rate per thousand on synthetic surfaces as opposed to dirt. Here is the breakdown:
Fatality rate on dirt tracks per thousand over the period: 2.14
Fatality rate on synthetic tracks per thousand over the period: 1.55
Statistically this is a very significant number and very encouraging if we can take it at face value. However there are a few issues with the reporting that I would like to see addressed before I can be convinced of "proof".
From the Report:
"By agreement with the participating racetracks, from time to time The Jockey Club may publish certain summary statistics from the Equine Injury Database, but will not provide statistics that identify specific participants, including racetracks, horses or persons."
If we don't know the fatality rates at each racetrack, how can there be any action taken on the results of the study or, more importantly, how can horsemen decide where to perhaps avoid racing in the future? There is a wide range of participating racetracks but what if a relatively few dirt racetracks have the vast majority of fatalities? If that's the case, then there is a lot we can learn from the composition of those tracks and how they are being maintained. There may be some dirt tracks where the fatality rate is excellent which could lead one to conclude that they must be doing something right at that facility. And what of the synthetic breakdowns? If there is a synthetic track where fatalities are particularly prevalent, then maybe that particular synthetic surface is inferior to the others. Conversely, if one is performing particularly well, it would be important to know that as well. Let's not forget that there are different variations of synthetic surfaces in play in North America - which were more safe?
A side note, another result of the study is something our European friends already know:
"Fillies and mares competing in races that were open to horses of all sexes were not at an increased risk of fatality compared to those competing in races restricted to fillies and mares."
You could have asked Zenyatta or Goldikova about that one!
While the study is giving us tantalizing information, until there are more details let's not jump to conclusions.