By Frank Angst From The Blood-Horse

While the Jockey Injury Database has seen increased participation in the past year, supporters of the database said increased support is critical for generating meaningful numbers.

Dr. Carl Mattacola, director of the Rehabilitation Sciences Doctoral Program at the University of Kentucky, updated an audience of about 150, as well as many others watching live online, on the Jockey Injury Database at the sixth Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit Wednesday, July 8 at Keeneland.

Mattacola, who has worked with the Jockeys’ Guild on the database, said since it was launched in 2012 the database has collected 699 incidents, which include falls where no one was injured. Mattacola emphasized that while reporting has increased in the past year, thanks in part to efforts by Jockeys’ Guild regional managers, he said more participation is needed.

When it was launched, the jockeys had hoped racetracks and regulatory bodies would embrace the database and provide information for it, similar to what is done for equine injuries in North America where nearly every injury is now recorded. At the 2014 Summit, Matacola had a similar message calling for increased support. At that time, 369 incidents had been reported in the system.

Looking at the current database, of the incidents that resulted in injury 79% of the riders did not return to riding that day of the incident. The leading types of reported injuries were sprains and strains at 26%, fractures at 25%, and concussions at 9%.

Mattacola emphasized that they are not coming close to recording every incident and some of the incidents that are reported fail to include all of the needed information on what Mattacola said is a basic form that needs to be filled out after a fall or injury.

Public focus on injuries in sports has increased in recent years, Mattacola noted, and if racing continues to fall short in this area it could take a hit in public perception. Mattacola said 10 years ago he would have never imagined the NFL putting its extensive concussion protocol in place. He said also would have never imagined mothers taking the lead on changing soccer rules to reduce head injuries in youth soccer.

Mattacola said fans and participants have come to expect these types of efforts to prevent injury. He said that the NCAA reports every injury suffered in competition, professional sports have extensive reporting, and regulators protect high school athletes and even youth sports. Matacola said the state to state regulatory set-up of horse racing has made it difficult to gain full support of the Jockey Injury Database.

The Jockeys’ Guild has worked to have every rider wear an ASTM-approved helmet. Mattacola presented stats that showed that 28% of the riders who suffered head injuries were wearing non-ASTM helmets, which Mattacola said are typically the Caliente helmets.

Donna Barton Brothers, who was participating as the Summit’s master of ceremonies, said the numbers were eye-opening.

“I wish I’d replaced that Caliente somewhere along the line,” said the retired rider, who added that her mother, jockey Patti Barton, wore a Caliente and suffered brain damage after a fall. She said her mother is all right overall, but has suffered long- and short-term memory loss.

Along with the Jockey Injury Database numbers, Mattacola presented lab tests that the Guild conducted that showed that ASTM helmets performed best, led by the Charles Owen and GPA headgear. These studies were presented to riders earlier this year at the Guild’s annual assembly.

Helmet Tests Revealing for Jockeys

The tests also included examining helmets after multiple impacts, using X-rays to examine damage after each impact. Each helmet provided less protection after each impact, although all of the ASTM-approved helmets provided a satisfactory level of protection after at least the first impact. A problem is that a helmet can look perfectly fine after multiple impacts, Mattacola said, adding that X-rays showed padding and protection levels are being reduced with each fall.

Riders should replace their helmets after an impact, although they should be all right completing the day in a helmet that has had a single impact.

“Helmets should be replaced after contact,” Mattacola said, “although it’s useful to know that most helmets will perform after that first hit.”