Hot on the heels of the American Association of Equine Practitioners' response to the New York Times report concerning horse racing injuries (see the May issue, p. 30), the New York Racing Association (NYRA) has issued a response of its own. NYRA contends that the metric developed for the article, referred to as an "incident rate," is incorrect and the methodology behind it is faulty, which may lead to misleading results.
For the article, which ran on the front page of the March 25 paper, the Times purchased reports covering more than 150,000 races across the country from 2009 through 2011 and analyzed the data to determine the frequency of breakdowns or signs of injury at each racetrack. The data was collected by "chart callers" and used to compile result charts that bettors use to evaluate horses. The Times searched the data for terms indicating a horse encountered a physical problem: "broke down," "vanned off," "injured," "lame," "euthanized," "died," "collapsed," "bleeding" or "went wrong." The Times states that it approached the analysis conservatively, steering away from industry terms such as "taken up" or "pulled up," which are often indicative of injury but could also be used to indicate that a jockey has intentionally stopped urging a horse on during a race.
However, NYRA claims that using chart callers' descriptions of the running of a race to estimate injury rate is unreliable and potentially deceptive. "Chart callers are trained to describe the manner in which a race is run, not to assess how often horses break down or get injured," NYRA officials contend. "Chart callers do not follow up with trainers or veterinarians to determine whether or not a horse has suffered an injury during a race." NYRA further points out that horses may be vanned off for many reasons that have nothing to do with injury, such as when a jockey pulls up a horse if he or she believes the horse has taken a bad step. In this common scenario, the horse is often vanned off as a precaution and many times is found to be without injury, the organization says.
NYRA's own analysis of the horses that were vanned off the track at New York's Saratoga Race Course from 2009 through 2011 revealed that 19 came back to race, making a total of 149 starts through the end of March 2012.
"NYRA concludes, therefore, that there is plausible cause to regard the New York Times' incident rate metric as faulty and to consider that its purported goal of assessing 'how often horses break down or get injured' leads to misleading and incorrect results," the group said in a press release.