Risk of fatality and causes of death of Thoroughbred horses associated with racing in Victoria, Australia: 1989–2004


Department of Veterinary Science, The University of Melbourne, 250 Princes Highway, Werribee, Victoria 3030, Austrailia


Reasons for performing study: Determining the risk of fatality of Thoroughbred horses while racing is essential to assess the impact of intervention measures designed to minimise such fatalities.

Objectives: To measure the risk of racehorse fatality in jump and flat starts on racecourses in Victoria, Australia, over a 15 year period and to determine proportional mortality rates for specific causes of death.

Methods: All fatalities of Thoroughbred horses that occurred during or within 24 h of a race were identified from a database. The risk of a start resulting in a racehorse fatality in all races and within flat and jump races, proportional mortality rates, population attributable risk, population attributable fraction and risk ratios were calculated along with 95% confidence intervals. Poisson regression was also performed to estimate risk ratios.

Results: There were 514 fatalities over the 15 year period; 316 in flat races and 198 in jump races. The risk of fatality was 0.44 per 1000 flat starts and 8.3 per 1000 jump starts (18.9 × greater). The risk of fatality on city tracks was 1.1 per 1000 starts whereas on country tracks it was 0.57 per 1000 starts. Of the 316 fatalities in flat races, 73.4% were due to limb injury, 2.5% to cranial or vertebral injury and 19.0% were sudden deaths. Of the 198 fatalities in jump races, 68.7% were due to limb injury, 16.2% to cranial or vertebral injury and 3.5% were sudden deaths. The risk of fatality in flat starts increased between 1989 and 2004 but the risk in jump starts remained unchanged over the 15 year period.

Conclusions: The risk of fatality in flat starts was lower in Victoria than North America and the UK but the risk in jump starts was greater. Catastrophic limb injury was the major reason for racehorse fatality in Victoria but there was a larger percentage of sudden deaths than has been reported overseas. The risk of fatality in jump starts remained constant over the study period despite jump racing reviews that recommended changes to hurdle and steeple races to improve safety.

Potential relevance: This study provides important benchmarks for the racing industry to monitor racetrack fatalities and evaluate intervention strategies.