DEL MAR — As fans champ at the bit for the horse racing season to begin on July 16 at the Del Mar Racetrack, the issue of equine athlete health and safety remains a top priority for both animal advocates and racing officials.
Newly released data from The Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, a national database of racing injuries, find that horse deaths as a result of racing in the U.S. fell slightly last year to 1.41 per 1,000 starts as opposed to 1.43 per 1,000 starts in 2019.
The rate is the lowest the Equine Injury Database has found since it began tracking horse racing deaths in 2009.
Furthermore, Del Mar Racetrack was ranked as one of the safest racetracks in the country with just one “catastrophic racing injury” in its 42 racing days in 2020 with an average rage of 0.29 fatalities per 1000 starts.
“Del Mar is understandably proud of the results realized by our racing community, starting with the California Horse Racing Board, our partners at the Thoroughbred Owners of California and filtering on down to all who regularly touch and care for our horses in various ways — our trainers, jockeys, grooms, exercise riders, hot walkers and veterinarians,” said Josh Rubinstein, president and chief operating officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “We salute each and every one of them.”
Del Mar’s racing injury numbers do appear better than other racetracks across the state, including Santa Anita Park, which had six fatalities in 2020 and 20 fatalities the year prior.
But there are still questions as to how forthcoming the track has been in their reporting. It is also important to note the numbers from the Equine Injury Database only reflect deaths that occur on track property.
“During public comments in a number of recent Del Mar Fairgrounds board meetings, the issue of horses labeled ‘missing in action’ has been raised repeatedly,” Jane Cartmill, San Diego resident and animal advocate said at the Race Track Leasing Commission meeting this week. “Where are these horses and why can’t they be found in the database?”
At another recent meeting of the fair board, Dr. Rick Arthur, equine medical director at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke on behalf of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and said anyone looking for the fate of any of these horses would have to find that information on their own by reaching out to the individual owners.
Safety protocols have become more of a priority for Del Mar and the available numbers bear that out, with no more than 6 deaths occurring on the property since 2016, and according to the fair board and the Thoroughbred Club that priority will remain the same in the coming racing season.
“Before 2019, but certainly in 2019, there was a heavy emphasis on looking at safety protocols and precautions regarding horse racing,” Richard Valdez, president of the 22nd District Agricultural Association board, said. “I think we are really at the forefront at making all of those protocols and procedures happen (on a national level) and they have had tremendous results.”