Two great presentations I went through today focused on equine injuries:
Selected Effects of Training & Racing on the Musculoskeletal System, Dr. Larry Bramlage
Equine Injury Database Update, Dr. Tim Parkin
Some fantastic stuff from Drs. Parkin and Bramlage. Dr. Bramlage focuses on training methods that develop racing bone. Interestingly enough, he focuses on shorter works at just over a furlong to limit stress injuries on bone. There is clearly a lot of information that he must have covered that was not on the slides, and I'm really disappointed to not have been able to hear/see his presentation.
Dr. Parkin, using a ton of data from North American tracks, finds that synthetics are the safest surfaces from a point of view of fatal injuries per 1,000 starts. Jessica Chapel chimed in on this as well this morning.
Dr. Parkin illuminates the fact that injuries/1,000 on synthetic surfaces are at 1.3, while turf is 1.6 and dirt is up at 1.9. He then immediately covers the fact that the "risk of catastrophic lower limb fracture in a claiming race is 1.8 times the risk in a non-claiming race". Seems like common sense, no?
The issue then appears to be "Synthetic surfaces are awesome and claiming races are bad." But when you really think about it, what Dr. Parkin is really saying is that fatal distal limb injuries are more prevalent in lower quality horses. Look at the list of tracks with synthetic surface: Keeneland, Del Mar, Arlington, Betfair Hollywood Park, Woodbine, Presque Isle Downs, Golden Gate, and Turfway. The racing at the first 5 is extremely good, for the most part, definitely amongst the high end of the tracks in the US. The last 4 are basically your standard tracks. So, roughly, 56% of racing on synthetic surfaces takes place at the high end tracks (Note: not saying there are not claiming races there, but look at claiming fields at Keeneland and Del Mar and you're definitely not looking at anything close to bottom-of-the-barrel horses) while a mere 44% takes place at average-to-lower tracks where claiming races are the meat and potatoes of the card.
Now look at the same percentages for dirt tracks. There are too many to list, but for every Saratoga, Santa Anita, and Churchill, there are at least 2 Ruidosos, Remingtons, and Prairie Meadows where entire weeks worth of races are lower level claimers.
So what does the data definitively say? I'm no doctor, I'm no expert, I just like numbers. But to me, they say that low level horses are without doubt at risk of fatal injuries. Synthetics probably help mitigate that risk to an extent, but it is no panacea.
The rest of the day's presentation slide shows can be found here at the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation website.